Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich

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Divine service as it is usually performed on board a British frigate at sea

BHC1119
Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID BHC1119
Description The cramped ship-board service has provided this opportunity for close observation and detail. The service takes place on the gun deck above that of BHC1118, with daylight visible through the hatches. A capstan runs vertically through the centre of the image, and the companion ladder is empty. There is a clear division between the Navy to the left and marines to the right. An admiral, wearing a pig-tail, looks at a book at a table covered with a flag, sitting on a chair draped with the union flag. In front of him a midshipman possibly reads a lesson from the Bible, attended to in varying degrees by the assembly. There are five figures behind the Admiral's table. A naval officer far left a hand in his pocket, turns away from the assembly and his smile invites the viewer to question the content of his book. Behind him a fellow officer, feet resting on a cannon, appears to sleep. To his right, a marine colonel catches the eye of another marine officer standing on the far right, and at his feet a small midshipman sits on a stool holding one bible while another lies unopened on the deck. In the foreground to the right, a naval officer appears to be asleep, with an open picture book resting on his lap, and a hat lies discarded nearby. Other naval officers are seated facing the admiral apparently in various attitudes of boredom and, in the background, one sailor seems to have been chastised for inattention by a naval officer bearing a stick. On the right, none of the seated marines, with attitudes varying from attending to yawning, holds a book. One woman, her arms folded, is portrayed in the front row. A military drum is suspended above the marines' heads. The impression of cramped space is accentuated by the sick man in the cradle, his head propped in his hand as he reads from the open book, immediately above the marines. A figure visible only by the top of his head may be a prisoner. Various objects hang from the bulkheads and beams, baskets of cannon balls, axes, a slate, hourglass, lantern and key. The two parrots are enclosed in their cage and underscore the sailors' and marines' enforced predicament and duty, since religion played little part in a seaman's life. The uniforms confirm an 1830s date, though the three rings on the captain's sleeve are anomalous since normally only worn on greatcoats from 1827 to 1856. The artist used his numerous watercolour sketches made on board HMS 'Hyperion', during a voyage to Rio de Janeiro in 1820, and his later transatlantic voyage as official artist in the 'Beagle' (with Darwin), though for health reasons he left that ship at Montevideo in October 1832 and returned to England by means as yet unclear. Some of the figures may be portraits observed on those voyages. The title of the painting is the one under which Earle exhibited it (with its pair, BHC1118) at the Royal Academy in 1837.
Date made circa 1836

Artist/Maker Earle, Augustus
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 556 mm x 875 mm; Frame: 735 x 1045 x 55 mm
Parts
  • Divine service as it is usually performed on board a British frigate at sea (BHC1119)
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