Thomas Whitcombe

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The Guernsey Packet Beating out of St Helier, sold by Christie's for £66,000 in 2006
A Merchantman and Other Vessels off Castle Cornet, Guernsey

Thomas Whitcombe c1763–1824 was a prominent British maritime painter of the Napoleonic Wars, and one of the most important artists of his era to visit and work in Jersey. Among his work are over 150 actions of the Royal Navy. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Royal Society of British Artists. His pictures are highly sought after today.

Life

He was born in London between 1752 and 19 May 1763, with the latter date frequently cited. Little is known of his background or training, although speculation based on the locations depicted in his paintings may provide some clues.

It is known that he was in Bristol in 1787 and later travelled to the South Coast; there are few ports or harbours from this region that do not feature in his work. In 1789 he toured Wales and in 1813 he travelled to Devon, painting scenes around Plymouth harbour. During his career he also painted scenes showing the Cape of Good Hope, Madeira, Cuba and Cape Horn. Between 1783 and 1824 he lived in London during the course of his exhibiting career.

His date of death, like that of his birth is uncertain; it was not before 1824, and possibly as late as 1834.

Style

His range of work embraced naval engagements, ship portraits, coastal scenes with shipping and ships at sea in fresh breezes and storms. The topography of the background is interesting and well observed and the depiction of the ships themselves detailed and technically very correct, a legacy of time spent in dockyards studying the subject matter. The backgrounds are delightfully atmospheric and, like many British marine artists of the 18th and 19th century, Whitcombe favoured a dark foreground.

A View of St Helier, Jersey, with Elizabeth Castle Beyond.This detailed view of the waterfront at St Helier shows Elizabeth Castle, with the Old North Quay (demolished in the nineteenth century) and the South Pier (which still stands) in the foreground. To the right is a merchant ship at anchor and on the left, by the quayside, is an armed Revenue cutter which has recently been in action, perhaps with smugglers, judging by the damage to her sails

Channel Islands

Thomas Whitcombe exhibited an oil painting of Elizabeth Castle at the Royal Academy in 1815. This would correspond with the completion in 1814 of Fort Regent, which shows prominently in the background.

He produced several versions of shipping subjects off Castle Cornet, Guernsey dating from the earliest, 1785, up to 1813. Also, in 1785, he painted a picture titled Jersey Pier with a Distant View of Elizabeth Castle. This work, shown on the left, was sold by Christie's for £132,500 in 2007, a record for a Whitcomb painting and also believed to be the most expensive painting with a Jersey view sold at auction.


Bibliography

  • A Dictionary of British Marine Painters, Arnold Wlison, A & C Black Publishers Ltd, 1970, ISBN 0853170517
  • A Dictionary of British Landscape Painters, M H Grant, Leigh-on-sea, 1952
  • The Dictionary of 18th Century British Painters, Ellis Waterhouse, published by Antique Collectors' Club Ltd, 1981, ISBN 0902028936
  • British 19th Century Marine Painting, Denys Brook-Hart, published by Antique Collectors' Club Ltd, 1974, ISBN 0902028324

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