More on the Covadonga
Scott & Brett

FOUR

Kingzett's catalogue raisonné, Walpole Society 1980-1982, records three versions by Scott of the taking of the Nuestra Señora de Cavadonga, the Acapulco treasure ship, also known as the Cabadonga, and the Covadonga --- there are other spellings. One of Scott's three known authentic canvases is shown above; another is shown below.


40½ x 50½. From A Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott, Kingzett 1982, version B, p.28

This version is signed and dated S.Scott 1749. Kingzett notes "The composition is based on one of Brett's eye-witness drawings used to illustrate Walker's Account of the Voyage." The drawing was engraved by J.Mason. Kingzett infers that the version illustrated was a "slightly later variant painted when Scott has had time to realise the pictorial possibilities of the scene. While following Brett's design as a whole, Scott has made the stern of the Centurion more interesting giving her mullions on the stern walk which she never had. ..... Scott also makes the Centurion appear smaller than the Cavadonga perhaps deliberately to stress the David and Goliath aspect of Anson's achievement. In fact, the two ships were virtually the same size."

However, Mason's engraving is shown below; and if this follows Brett's drawing closely it would appear that the David and Goliath aspect had already been stressed before Scott produced his version. Also, the pictorial possibilities of the scene had apparently been realized by either Brett or Mason before Scott took up his brush.


From Anson's Voyage Round the World, by Richard Walter, edited by G.S.Laird Clowes, 1928.


Detail comparison: Mason's engraving, left; Scott's painting, right.

Swaine's print, see here, shows the ships as approximately the same size, and embellished stern architecture does not feature. Below is a closer look at Scott's alterations to the stern of the Centurion.

Scott's 29 paintings of naval engagements depict a total of 14 actions, the balance taken up by repeat versions of the same action. The period spanned is 1708 to 1759, although Scott's first representation of a naval action, the Capture of Porto Bello, was not produced until 1741. The most spectacular canvas may be that of Wager's action off Carthagena, 1708, painted after Wager's death in 1743 with a view to being used as the basis for a monument, completed 1747, in Westminster Abbey. The sculptor, Peter Scheemaker, owned the painting. Around 1758, and following the capture of Quebec in 1759, Scott produced a series of battle scenes, perhaps as a result of a sales campaign, as suggested by the curious item in the Critical Review, 1758, which also appears to be linked with Smollett's quarrel with Admiral Knowles. But by 1759 Francis Swaine was strong competition, and Scott produced little marine painting after the early 1760s.

More on Wager's Action off Carthagena, 1708
Scott, van de Velde & Monamy


31¾ x 44½ or 34 x 49. National Maritime Museum; BHC0348

Kingzett comments that "For the placing of the ships, Scott has used a drawing attributed to Van de Velde (Hildyard collection, Flintham Hall, Nottinghamshire, 17 x 35 in, signed with initials W.V.V. on a barrel), but he has varied it in some details. As in the drawing the Kingston and the Portland have sterns dating from the 1670s, although they were actually built in the 1690s. The Expedition's stern on the other hand is conspicuously later in date. The drawing must have been accepted as a reasonable reproduction of the affair if its composition was eventually used for the monument. This rules out Van de Velde as its author as he died a year before the action took place, and it is quite unlike Scott's work in this medium. Probably it was put together by someone like Swaine from an eye-witness account and developed by Scott into a more coherent form suitable for the monument."

Someone like Swaine strikes me as an exceedingly unlikely collaborator with Scott. The two painters had absolutely nothing in common. The compositional similarities between Scott's painting and two paintings of an obviously much earlier angagement, both signed Monamy, are illustrated below.

     

A search through Robinson's tomes on the van de Velde ouput has failed to discover an oil painting at all similar in composition to Scott's portrayal of Wager's action, or of Monamy's apparent representation of the Battle of the Texel. However, it may well be that either or both painters were basing their pictures on the signed drawing in the Hildyard collection mentioned by Kingzett.

Inspection of the drawing might solve the matter.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that Scott must have been aware of Monamy's no doubt much earlier work.

Or someone even earlier. See below.
      [reversed image]      


Wager was naturally a persona a great deal more grata than such as Vernon with politicians of the Walpole persuasion. As reported in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1733, Wager had voted for Walpole's Customs and Excise Bill; and he had also voted pro George II's Hessian Troops in 1730. It would seem that Sir Charles was definitely not a boat-rocker.

A meticulously researched study of the action at Carthagena, June 8, 1708, entitled The Treasure of the San José, by Professor Carla Rahn Phillips, published in 2007, gives a most detailed account of its every circumstance, principally, though by no means exclusively, from the Spanish point of view. Phillips notes (p 214) that: "It is not clear whether the English guns caused the catastrophic chain of events that sank the San José: that was surely not the intention of the English commander". The treasure ship contained a fortune in gold, silver, pearls and gems, which was lost along with 600 men and officers; and in spite of strenuous efforts, the wreck has still not been located. This affair, though spectacular, was therefore wholly fruitless, and it seems a slightly odd event with which to commemorate Wager's life.


From The National Maritime Museum, ed Basil Greenhill, p.91

Note, 25/04/2009: But see below:


A drawing inscribed L.Backhusius Fecit 1705 in Amsterd.

From Ludolf Backhuysen, by Henri Nannen, 1985, p 151

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