John Chancellor's Classic Maritime Paintings
Rita Chancellor and Austin Hawkins
David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1989; reprinted 1992

The Maritime Paintings of John Chancellor
David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1984

Review by Stuart Wier

When reading sea stories pictures or paintings or the events described, or of similar events, are pleasing and helpful in understanding the setting and atmosphere.

Both of these books has reproductions of some 25 excellent marine oil paintings by John Chancellor. The reproductions are large, about 10 by 12 inches.

John Chancellor of England had an early career on small ships at sea, and later turned to painting about 1971. He and his family restored an old wooden vessel for their home. He died in 1984 at a comparatively young age. I believe he finished less than 100 oils altogether, perhaps fewer than 70. Each painting is highly detailed and was the result of lengthy research. They show naval or working sailing vessels, but no yachts. Many exactly recreate a real incident in date, place, time of day, weather, sea state, and so on. All are, I recall, British vessels. Chancellor's paintings from the Napoleonic period could be used as excellent illustrations for Forester and O'Brian novels of that period. Each reproduction is accompanied by a page or more of text discussing the situation.

Chancellor's realism is vivid without overdoing it. One critic complained the waves seemed too big, solid, and powerful. Chancellor replied by pointing out that the critic had never gone to sea in a small ship.

All the paintings are an education in life at sea, or at least how it appeared then, and how the sea and sky still appears.

These paintings from the later work should appeal to readers of the Napoleonic naval war period:

Communications; 11 December 1796, off Ushant. The French are out and Sir Edward Pellew's frigate squadron sends off the Amazon to alert the fleet.

A Touch of Comedy; 9 March 1797, off the Goulet. Three British frigates come afoul of each other in maneuvers.

Final Bid; 22 August 1798. Frigate Naiad (38) at the end of a long chase in very light airs is fired on by the French frigate Decade. Stun'sails aloft and alow. Who won? You'll have to read the book!

Frigate Patrol; including Sir Ed. Pellew's Indefatigable. Could be the cover picture for virtually any book in the Forester or O'Brian canons.

Survived; 24 September 1798. La Prompte (20) has just come through a hurricane in the West Indies, and is starting to make repairs to the shattered rig. Very much like a similar scene in Lord Hornblower. Based on two or three separate but mutually supporting documents including Spencer Childer's Mariner of England.

The second volume is still for sale in the U.S. though the first is out of print. Second-hand book dealers (see list in Great Encouragement to Boatwrights) may be able to supply either.

Copyright © 1997 by Stuart Wier
Commercial reproduction prohibited without written consent of the author.

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