A Lugger attending a rowing boat, with a cutter beyond, in rough seas. Called 'Boat in Rough Sea off Yarmouth' and attributed to Miles Edmund Cotman.
|Artist:||John Sell Cotman, British, 1782 - 1842|
|Artist:||Previously attributed to Miles Edmund Cotman, 1810 - 1858|
|Title:||A Lugger attending a rowing boat, with a cutter beyond, in rough seas. Called 'Boat in Rough Sea off Yarmouth' and attributed to Miles Edmund Cotman.|
|Medium:||Graphite and watercolour on wove paper|
|Support:||White, wove paper|
Support: 239 mm x 324 mm
|Credit Line:||Bought with funds from the Alfred Bilborough Bequest, 1925|
This is a fine studio watercolour of a small lugger seen from the port beam on a starboard tack in heavy seas. The boat would normally carry three masts, but only the forward mast is raised. There are two crewmen forward, and another four towards the stern, all pointing urgently forward. Close-to on the near side is a rowing boat with six oars and at least eight men on board. Beyond the main vessel is a gaff-rigged cutter also seen from the port beam on a starboard tack, with its gaff lowered to shed the wind. The main boat is numbered on its port bow '53' and there are spars in the water in the left foreground, and seagulls wheeling, all set before a dramatic sky with dark clouds to the left and a diagonal shaft of light to the right before clearer skies.
The main vessel is unusual in having a very short foremast. It is possible that this identifies it as a lifeboat, since a short mast would be preferable for the wild conditions in which a lifeboat would be customarily called into service. The spars floating in the foreground suggest wreckage, and the heavily-laden rowing boat appears to be attempting to come alongside to tranship passengers.
There are a number of comparable sketches in the Leeds collection: LEEAG 1949.0009.0357 shows a similarly-overloaded rowing boat, and LEEAG.1949.0009.0396 shows a cutter (albeit in reverse) similarly lowering its gaff to shed wind.
A similar vessel, but with three masts appears in a similar-style watercolour which was recorded in the collection of Mr Justice McCardie in 1922 when it was exhibited at the Tate Gallery (no.108 as 'Seascape') and reproduced in 'The Studio' of 15 August 1922, p.66. The two watercolours appear so similar as to have been made as a pair or as part of a series. The Witt library also has a photograph of a black and white chalk drawing of a lugger with two masts seen from the opposite (starboard) beam, which is dated '25 March 35' and which was at one time in the collection of Mr D P Clifford, Hartlip Place, Sittingbourne, Kent.
The present watercolour was bought by Leeds City Art Gallery in 1925 using finds from the Arthur Bilborough Bequest. Bilborough was a Leeds chemist and left funds to the gallery to collect English watercolours in the early years of the formation of the collection. It was bought as a work by John Sell Cotman, but has subsequently been reattributed to Cotman's eldest son, Miles Edmund, although the basis for that is not recorded.
Miles Edmund was born in 1810, learned his trade as an artist in this father's workshop in the later 1820s, and entered into a close association with his father in the 1830s working together almost as a Cotman studio. In 1828 and 1831 John Sell and Miles Edmund made sailing trips down the Suffolk and Essex coast to the rivers Thames and Medway, and came back with scores of studies of shipping. The Leeds collection contains numerous examples. They produced work separately and together, and in the 1830s especially are difficult to separate with any certainty.
The present work is of very fine quality, and extraordinary if the work of Miles Edmund. There is a boldness in the treatment of the sky, and a deft sensitivity in the use of watercolour, particularly in the figures, which seems to be wholly characteristic of John Sell Cotman. The style of the present example is soft, and both bold and sensitive, suggestive of Cotman in the later 1820s or around 1830. By comparison, Miles Edmund's work of the same period is (as his father put it) 'tighter' and generally fussier and more brittle in character. The present work might best be given to John Sell Cotman rather than Miles Edmund and dated between the two Thames and Medway expeditions, that is in the period 1828-31, and probably not long after the first trip. The whole area of the Cotmans' marine subjects would reward proper systematic study.
David Hill, June 2017