Oil paintings, Fine art, Maritime Art Greenwich

The Collection

Your selection

Title

Actions

Buy this image Add this to a collection
Tags
Share or embed this object  

The Great Comet of 1843

BHC4148
Oil paintings

Object connections:

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

Object details:

Object ID BHC4148
Description A night-time view showing 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. The painting shows the dramatic affect of the phenomenon, and the brilliance of the stars, and red of the sunset continues the affect. A figure can be seen in the foreground, standing at the edge of the viewing platform to look at the comet with the range of mountains in the distance, glowing red. The relative scale of man to mountain emphasizes the magnititude of the incident. 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 organised 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 BHC4147.
Date made 1843

Artist/Maker Smyth, Charles Piazzi
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 1052 mm x 753 mm x 75 mm;Overall: 13.6 kg;Painting: 907 mm x 610 mm
Parts
  • The Great Comet of 1843 (BHC4148)
    Help us

    Do you know more about this?

    Share your knowledge