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Battle of Negapatam, 6 July 1782

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich
ExhibitionsTraders: The East India Company and Asia
User collections Textiles: supplying cloth to the world by NMMExhibitions
Gallery locationQH (Floor plans)
PeopleProvenance: Hughes, Edward
EventsAnglo-French War: Battle of Negapatam, 1782
Publication(s)The National Maritime Museum - The Collections
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Object details:

Object ID BHC0448
Description (Updated, April 2018) A depiction of the third of the five fleet actions fought off Ceylon and the east coast of India, at the end of the War of American Independence, between the French and English East Indies squadrons of Pierre-André de Suffren, and Sir Edward Hughes. The others were on 17 February 1782 off Sadras, on 12 April off Providien, on 30 September off Trincomalee and on 30 June 1783 off Porto Novo - or Cuddalore. All were furiously contested, both admirals being tenacious fighters, and at Negapatam the French 'Brilliant', lost 47 killed and 136 wounded. The captain of the 'Sévère', ordered his colours struck but his first lieutenant, refusing to accept this, forcibly shut him up in his cabin and rehoisted them. At the end the British had lost 77 killed and 233 wounded, while the French lost 178 killed and 600 wounded. Neither side lost a ship in any of the actions and despite Hughes's efforts, Suffren remained a strategic threat. The picture shows an early stage in the action when the squadrons are still in line. The British line is on the left, in port-bow view, led by Commodore King in the 'Hero', with Hughes in the 'Superb', lying fifth. In the extreme left background can be seen one of the accompanying frigates. The French line is on the right, in starboard-quarter view, with Suffren in the 'Héros', also lying fifth. Serres produced a set of eight large paintings for Hughes, including this one, of his actions with Suffren. On his death in 1794 Hughes left them to Greenwich Hospital - or rather, his widow presented them as an informal bequest, since they are not mentioned in his will. In 1835 his former protégé, Admiral Benjamin William Page (1765-1845), was incensed to find them hanging in obscure corridors in the Hospital rather than in the Naval Gallery that had been established in 1824 in the Painted Hall (until 1936). He persuaded the Hospital to agree an exchange in which he would provide another picture of an unspecified great naval victory to the value of 100 guineas, if they would release the Serres set and a copy the Hospital also had of Reynolds's full-length portrait of Hughes (see BHC2792) for presentation to Ipswich, with which both he and Hughes had connections. Retaining just the present one, the Hospital released the others by Serres, and the portrait, and Page's 100 guineas funded the commissioning of George Chambers's 'Battle of La Hogue, 1692' (BHC0339 after West). The Hospital however resolved not to make similar arrangements again, since the affair had raised doubts of legal propriety. The paintings sent to Ipswich were hung in the town hall there and since 1983 have been in the care of the local museum service. Serres was a well-born Frenchman from Gascony who ran away to sea in merchant service rather than follow family wish that he enter the Church. He probably arrived in England as a naval prisoner of war, took up painting and settled there. His early paintings show the influence of Brooking and Monamy's interpretations of Dutch art but he rapidly achieved recognition for his more documentary visual accounts of sea actions of the Seven Years War, 1756-63, becoming established as England's leading marine painter. His work was even more in demand in the 1770s and 1780s, recording the naval history of the War of American Independence. In 1768 Serres was a founder member of the Royal Academy and at the end of his life its librarian. A well respected and sociable man, he was appointed Marine Painter to George III in 1780. This painting is signed and dated 'D Serres 1786', and inscribed bottom left '3rd Action off Negapatam 6th July 1782'.
Date made 1786

Artist/Maker Serres, Dominic
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1176 mm x 1829 mm; Frame: 1360 mm x 2062 mm x 92 mm; Weight: 67.2kg
  • Battle of Negapatam, 6 July 1782 (BHC0448)
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