Fine art, Oil paintings

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The First of England

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
User collections Re·Think Migration by marre986
Deptford Research Project by henrytp
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID ZBA0739
Description The 'First of England' is a large-scale oil commission of 1998 based on sketches and photographs taken by the artist during various ferry trips around Britain. Asked to paint a picture of modern maritime Britain he turned to his perceptions of people travelling on a ferry. Ocean saw parallels with eager day trippers being conveyed back to England from a shopping trip in France and Philip Larkin’s description of troops in WWI being shipped over to France. Furthermore he saw the experience of travelling on a ferry as a common one, serving as an extension of the car as well as being a floating high street. Humphrey Ocean's painting comments on the significance of sea travel for the British today, and portrays an unromantic image of the relationship of Britons with their coastline. The setting of the ferry arriving at Dover offers a sense of movement though most of the people portrayed appear disinterested in their surroundings. Oblivious to each other, they behave with characteristic ‘British’ nonchalance. No one looks at the figure lying on the bench, not caring if he is drunk, dead or just asleep. In the tradition of post-war British pop art, the artist is able to select an object that symbolises a particular experience or collective memory. The polystyrene cup sitting in the emptied out foreground captures the resignation of drinking stale coffee, whether on a ferry or at a roadside cafe. He uses blocks of colour to convey the mood in an image where the totemic white cliffs are still able to claim dominance. In a painting which engages with the people and the present, the title acknowledges Ford Madox Brown's famous Pre-Raphaelite painting 'The Last of England', 1855. This work examined the social and national significance of sea travel in that period. Significantly it also represented a common shared experience, that of mass emigration which took place among the working classes during the 1850s. In this painting we see an artist emigrating to begin a new life in Australia with his wife and baby, with eyes fixed firmly ahead and the white cliffs receding behind them. His painting of modern maritime Britain portrays an eclectic group of people sharing an everyday experience.
Date made 1998

Artist/Maker Ocean, Humphrey
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials Acrylic on canvas
Measurements Frame: 2620 mm x 3230 mm x 125 mm;Painting: 2490 x 3100 x 27 mm
  • The First of England (ZBA0739)
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