Thomas Baston: Pioneer Marine Print Designer
b c 1670-75 (?) --- fl 1695-1735 (?)

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baston's sovereign

                                ROYAL ANNE                                

The above image has been scanned from Old Naval Prints: Their Artists and Engravers, by Commander Charles N. Robinson, RN, published in 1924. The Commander notes that this print was one of twelve, drawn and engraved by Thomas Baston, and published by Carrington Bowles. The Royal Anne was Byng's flagship, and escaped off the Scillies, in 1707, when three other ships were lost; and Admiral Shovell was murdered as he struggled to shore.

Mention of a "set of twelve" suggests that these preceded the set of 22, mentioned by Archibald (see below) and elsewhere. Are they the same twelve as comprise the Englische Schiffe? Actually, these twelve German re-engravings have now been augmented by another six. The print below, from the same plate as the more attractively coloured one in Robinson's book, appears to have been produced by John Bowles in 1721.

Baston F. 1721             Printed for … John Bowles … at the Black Horse in Cornhil.
click here for later print from the same plate.

The identity of the ship in the print below, dedicated to George, Prince of Wales, later George II, is not provided. The German text, in a later copy, see here, merely says "A first-rate warship, on a calm sea, at sunrise."

A preparatory drawing (1718?) for the subsequent print: below.
See Masters of the Sea, Quarm & Wilcox, p.72

compare German version, reversed, below

Re-engraved, with variations, apparently from the print above, for Englische Schiffe: see here.

I.Cole after T.Baston

In the 1980 edition of the Dictionary of Sea Painters, E.H.H.Archibald has this to say of Thomas Baston: "Artist working in the first quarter of the 18th century. In the reign of George I, Thomas Bowles published an unimportant set of prints, 'Twentytwo PRINTS of several of the CAPITAL SHIPS OF HIS Majties ROYAL NAVY with Variety of other SEA PIECES after the drawings of T.Baston,' The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, has two drawings by him. This compiler knows of no oil paintings by him."

Twenty years on, in the third edition, 2000, a kind soul has emended "unimportant" to "important", and this reverse judgement is endorsed by David Joel in Charles Brooking: 1723-1759. Horace Walpole, Lord Orford, in his Catalogue of Engravers, 1798, p.106, chips in with: "Michael Vandergutch … sometimes did other things, as a large print of the royal navy, on a sheet and a half, designed by one Baston." See 1701 advertisement, below.

A sometime editor of The London Gazette was James Vernon, father of Admiral Vernon

The Michael van der Gucht (1660-1725) Horace is discussing was the father of Gerard van der Gucht (1696-1776), who engraved Monamy's book illustration in 1729.

see the sailors from this print

Breezy E.Keble Chatterton, in Old Ship Prints, 1927; p.83, is positively positive on Baston: "During the first quarter of the eighteenth century there flourished Thomas Baston, who deserves our attention because he has left us some very spirited illustrations of English men-of-war. Himself a seascape painter, he also did a few etchings from his own designs, but some of his pictures were engraved by Harris, Kirkall, and others. A desirable Baston series is that entitled Twenty-two Prints of several of the Capital ships of his Majesties Royal Navy, which will be found in the Print Room of the British Museum." There are, so far, no known seascape paintings (or etchings?) by Baston, but facts never fazed EKC. The print room awaits a visit.

The Barfleur
Dedicated to Lord Torrington, Knight of the Bath. This implies a date post 1725.

To the Rt. Honoble. GEORGE Lord Viscount TORRINGTON
Rear Admiral of Great BRITAIN
and KNIGHT of the most Honourable ORDER of the BATH ---
of his MAJties.SHIP the Barfleur is most humbly Inscrib'd ---
ADMIRAL and Commander in Chief of his MATY'S. FLEET,           
One of the LORDS of his MAJties. most Honoble. PRIVY COUNCIL
This PLATE                                                 In æquore Victor       
Baston delin I.Harris Sculp   Primus CÆSAREIS pelagi Decus addidit armis

The above print of the Barfleur is inscribed Printed for T.Bowles in St Pauls Church Yard & John Bowles and Son in Cornhil. Timothy Clayton has published a sound, scholarly, and sumptuous study entitled The English Print 1688-1802, Yale 1997, in which he refers to this print. Another imprint of the plate, with a differently worded inscription, may have been re-issued in 1831.

a first Rate Carrying 100 guns and 780 Men with a View
of Woolwich where she was built

Tho. Baston pinxt               E.Kirkall fecit
Printed for Carington Bowles, next the Chapter House in St Pauls Churchyard, London. 10 x 15½


Tho. Baston pinxt               E.Kirkall fecit
Printed for Carrington Bowles, next the Chapter House in St Paul's Churchyard, London. 10 x 15

Carrington Bowles (1724-1792), according to Clayton, took over his uncle's shop in St Paul's Churchyard after the death of Thomas Bowles (the third?) in 1762. As these dates indicate, the prints above must have been re-issues, post 1762, perhaps as late as about 1830, judging from the paper they are printed on. Since Kirkall is confidently believed to have died in 1742, the inscriptions Tho.Baston pinxt and E.Kirkall fecit raise queries. Baston is not known to have painted any pictures, and one may wonder whether Kirkall ever engraved line prints in this manner. The "Greenland" indicated in the title is not Greenland as we know it, but refers to Spitzbergen, a place where I have spent several chilly weeks aboard a small yacht. See here.

Opposite page 88 in Chatterton's Old Ship Prints, 1928, is a very similar though not identical print, shown above, here inscribed R.Sheppard Sculpt., with the legend The Greenland Whale Fishery: Thus dies Leviathan, thus ends his Reign,/O'er all th'inferiour Natives of the Main. These innocuous lines excite Chatterton's ire; it is difficult to tell why. Robert Sheppard is mentioned by Clayton as one of the engravers who subscribed to the St Martin's Lane Academy in 1720. It looks as if Baston was the original author of this design, which was engraved twice, first by Sheppard, and then (perhaps?) by Kirkall.

Whaling prints are a sub-genre of their own. The reproduction above is described by Chatterton in Old Sea Paintings, p.100, as a "monochrome" attributed to J.Boon. Chatterton dates the work to "about 1724", and treats it with the greatest scorn. J.Boon is an enigmatic name, which I haven't come across in any other context, and am led to speculate that J.Boon is actually T Baston. Could the fact that there are no known oil paintings by Baston mean that he had some disability, such as colour blindness?

The next two prints by Baston appear to bear some distant relationship to a famous painting by van de Velde, An English Squadron beating to Windward. See here for three versions of this celebrated work by Brooking, and one by Monamy.

To the Rt.Honble. the Principal OFFICERS and COMMISSIONERS of his MAJTIES. NAVY
This PLATE is most humbly Inscrib'd ---
TBaston delin.                                                                                                 J.Sartor sculp.

The above print is reproduced in Chatterton's Old Ship Prints, where he titles it English Squadron beating to Windward. Below, the ships are plying to windward.

Several VIEWS of SHIPS in variety of WEATHERS. Curiously engraved after the Drawings of
MR. THO:BASTON.                   Printed for J.Bowles at the Black Horse in Cornhill.
Ships plying to Windward in a Hard Gale.

The following print, an exceptionally gloomy presentation of the might of the sea, may have been inspired by a not totally dissimilar work by Wenzel Hollar, shown below it.

Incubuere Mari totumque, a sedibus imis
Una Eurusque Notusq; Ruunt creberque procellis
              Africus, et vastos volvunt at Litora fluctus.      Virgil
TBaston delin                                                                                                           J.Sartor sculp

                            this stupendous engraving measures 4¾ x 10½                            

it's worth a closer look

go to baston 2
more on baston: october 2005
the whaling genre

kirkall's prints

The Influence of Claude

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