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Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, 1718-82

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleProvenance: Kempenfelt, Gustavus Adolphus
Artist: Kettle, Tilly
Depiction: Kempenfelt, Richard

Object details:

Object ID BHC2818
Description A full-length portrait facing to left in flag officer's undress uniform, circa 1774-83. A fighting sword is by his left side and he leans on a long telescope that rests on his left foot. Painted in the year of the sitter's death, it may have been done posthumously. The beach on which he stands is littered with naval stores and in the left background are two first-rates, the nearer probably the 'Victory', 100 guns, with a blue ensign and a Union at the mizzen, apparently to distinguish him from the rear-admiral of the blue when at sea without the fleet admiral commanding-in-chief. At the end of 1781 Kempenfelt was sent in the 'Victory', the fleet flagship, with a squadron to intercept an important French convoy which was sailing to reinforce their holdings in the West Indies. Although Kempenfelt found the French escort much stronger than his force, it had been carelessly placed ahead and to leeward of the convoy. He was therefore able to rout the merchantmen undisturbed, taking fifteen and destroying four. The rest were scattered and almost all the survivors returned to Brest. After Howe assumed command in 1782, Kempenfelt shifted to the 'Royal George', 100 guns, as a junior flag officer and he was drowned in her when she sank at anchor at Spithead in August, together with over 800 other people. Kempenfelt was also the inventor of a numeral signal code that helped to revolutionize naval tactics. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy 1782.
Date made 1782

Artist/Maker Kettle, Tilly
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 2440 x 1525 mm; Frame: 2720 mm x 1880 mm x 130 mm
  • Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, 1718-82 (BHC2818)
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