Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich

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Daylight View over Table Bay Showing the Great Comet of 1843

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich
ExhibitionsTime and Longitude
User collections Britain and South Africa: a Maritime and Scientific Relationship by JohnMcAleer
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID BHC4147
Description An eyewitness account of the Great Comet of 1843 painted by the astronomer Charles Piazzi Smyth. The earliest observation occurred on the evening of 5 of February, 1843 and Smyth recorded its appearance at the Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa between 3 and 6 of March. When at its greatest brilliance, it was visible only from southern latitudes. The view in the painting is probably taken from the Observatory. It shows Table Bay with Table Mountain visible in the background on the left. A large sailing ship sits in the foreground on the right, with other shipping in the distance. Since the main purpose of the painting was to show the comet, the sky dominates the image. The comet formed a disk and Smyth described its nucleus as 'a planetary disk, from which rays emerged in the direction of the tail'. He observed that to the naked eye it appeared to have a double tail, with the two streamers proceeding from the head in perfectly straight lines. The tail of the comet holds the record for actual extent and the sighting was notable because of the intensity of light, apparently outshining any comet seen in the previous seven centuries, as well as for the length of its tail. In the foreground on the left, a small boat is shown with three people on board all pointing towards the comet. The intensity of the light is shown reflected in the sea. Smyth was an astronomer, geodesist, spectroscopist, meteorologist, pyramidologist, photographer, traveller and writer. He realized that cities were not the ideal place for astronomical observations and fought for the settlement of observatories on mountains. In 1856, he organized an expedition to the Canary Islands and also travelled to Russia, France, Madeira, Sicily and Egypt. As one of the great British astronomers, he was 42 years Astronomer Royal for Scotland. The painting is signed 'C P S' and dated 1843, and is one of a pair with BHC4148.
Date made 1843

Artist/Maker Smyth, Charles Piazzi
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 907 mm x 610 mm; Frame: 1055 x 742 x 68 mm
  • Daylight View over Table Bay Showing the Great Comet of 1843 (BHC4147)
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