Thomas Baston —
Rare Pioneer of English Marine Painting
Here with the Spectacular Naval Victory of August 13 , 1704
in the Battle of Málaga ?
The Burning of an Enemy Fleet
in Grey Wash on Vellum as Finest of the Finest
Baston, Thomas. Furit Imissis Vulcanus habenis, Transtra per et remos et pictas abjete puppes. Burning a fleet by fire-bombs of British ships. On the left a burning three-decker with crowned lion as figure-head. On the sea several boats, partly manned by armed marines. Pen and brown ink with grey wash on vellum. Inscribed lower right: TBaston F. 1720. as well as from Vergil’s Æneis as above. 7⅛-7½ × 11⅛ in (182-191 × 283 mm).
Baston’s very finely executed , atmosphere-rich work
to sheet 21 of the “Twenty-two Prints of several of the Capital ships of his Majesties Royal Navy with Variety of other Sea Pieces after the Drawings of T. B.” which were published “under his name after his drawings, but engraved by several artists” by T. Bowles in London in 1721 and became known in their entirety of 22 sheet to Thieme-Becker III, 27 only. Nagler I, 317 knew Baston as draughtsman and engraver, but only 9 sheet of this set which is also missing in the Scheepvaart Museum and only recently was highly paid with US$ 20,000.
In his circumstances widely unknown, other works have not become known even to newest literature including AKL VII, 434:
“ Artist working in the first quarter of the 18th century. In the reign of George I, Thomas Bowles published an important 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 ”
(Archibald, Dictionary of Sea Painters, in the 3rd ed., 2000, correcting the erratum “un”important).
In addition to this Chatterton, Old Ship Prints, 83 f., together with plate illustration:
“ 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 … some of his pictures were engraved by … Kirkall, and others … The detail of these ‘wooden walls’, with their great topsails and their picturesque poop lanterns, is
most valuable if we wish to study
the ships of the period immediately preceding 1765 ,
the date when Nelson’s Victory was launched …
Such details as the running and standing rigging, the pennants, the stowage of the anchors … which immediately attract our attention … Certainly such prints … give a life and meaning to eighteenth-century naval history, for they help us to visualize the manner in which fleets went into action, or fought their way across the ocean under conditions that we can scarcely envy. ”
Based on recent research, however, present Baston seems to have been born in Ireland about 1665/70, and father of Thomas (II) baptized 1691 in Allhallows, London Wall, as son of Thomas (I) and Mary Baston. Further documents prove the existence of a marine draughtsman Thomas Baston, living in great financial difficulties for at least the first years of the 18th century, what with respect to age thus should refer to present Th. I, and finally being in debtor’s prison from 1710 till at least end of 1716, more likely till 1720. This then in remarkable concurrence with the gap between the dates of present and and the earlier one of two further drawings available here from 1710 (the other one from 1722) as well as the publication of the set starting in 1721. For 1728 finally the birth of a Thomas III as son of again Thomas and Mary Baston is documented in Allhallows. See on this as on the marriage of one (further?) Thomas Baston with the propertied widow Ann Grace before mid of 1691 recorded likewise in Allhallows as well as on the above Rayner copy in greater detail Charles H. Wallace, Thomas Baston: Pioneer Marine Print Designer.
Artistically Baston belongs to the
earliest pioneers of an independent English art scene
in the early 18th century. And it is Baston and the obviously about half a generation younger Peter Monamy (1681-1749) who not only succeed the younger van de Velde, at last active in London and deceased in 1707, but satisfy in a political-economical environment of secured predominance on all seas and a growing colonial empire an increasing middle-class request for art and through this make marine painting popular, Baston in the field of prints, Monamy with paintings. The latter by the way made free by the Guild of Painter-Stainers the very same day as Sir James Thornhill, the later father-in-law of William Hogarth with whom Monamy then was on friendly terms and just as this he contributed – shortly before his death – to the decoration of Captain Coram’s Foundling Hospital, though his marine piece is lost today.
The thirteenth sheet of the set reproduced by Chatterton – engraved by Sartor – with coat of arms and dedication to the Royal officers instead of a verse of Vergil’s.
With the belonging to contemporary engraving in reverse
by Elisha or Elizabeth Kirkall (inscribed: 21 / TBaston delin. / E. Kirkall Sculp., otherwise like the drawing with the addition “Vergil”. 8½ × 12½ in [21.7 × 31.7 cm]). The former (Sheffield about 1682/92 – Whitefriars, London, 1742), “one of the best early mezzotinters” (F. B. Cockett, Peter Monamy and His Circle, p. 87), worked the mezzotint of the royal ship “Britannia” after Baston. Kirkall’s 1732 private copies of Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress by the way lead to the Copyright or Hogarth Act three years later. His wife Elizabeth (till after 1707) engraved – so Walpole – i. a. four seascapes; cf. Thieme-Becker + Nagler).
A copy of present sujet, varying only in details, though in the waves distinctly more schematic, in reverse to Kirkall’s engraving was supposedly published 1738/39 (Clayton, The English Print), but not before 1735, under the name of one otherwise here not provable William Rayner as
“ The Engagement of the Confederate Fleet …
on the thirteenth of Augt. 1704 , off of Málaga ”.
It may be left aside if Rayner just copied and entitled the available motif of an overwhelming English victory at sea suitable for his propaganda purpose – the inflammation of popular bellicosity in the approaches of the “War on Jenkins’ Ear” which then unfolded into the Austrian War of Succession – or if Baston actually treated in present drawing the Battle of Málaga 16 years before.
The drawing trimmed on three sides just outside of the borderline and only below with even lower margin of 3-4 mm. The minimal waving resulting from the warmth of the artist’s hands – see Meder, Handzeichnung, 169 – barely noticeable and ending in a fold within the caption only. Otherwise here and there quite negligibly rubbed in places.
The engraving in early rich impression on especially strong laid paper with great watermark fleur de lis with crown. Its extraordinarily luxurious paper margin in the outer parts to some extent time-stained and with several small tears backed acid-freely.
Of absolutely unsurpassable attraction for every collection
the confrontation of original drawing and engraving :
Only the drawing with its immediateness can unveil the artist in his whole. In a way it is impossible even for the mezzotint washes can show the slightest shadows besides the clear lines. Many details appear even in the fully executed drawing sketchy, stressing the impressions which were important for the draftsman himself.
Restricted to the straight line the engraving can display – besides its own special charm – tender shades very limited only. Other details, suggested only in the drawing, might step to the foreground in a way it may not have been intended originally.
So here, too. While in the print the flames of the burning ships appear almost concrete, the details of the ships in sharp clearness, one believes to almost feel the glittering heat in the drawing.
is – conditioned by the unique character of original drawings themselves as well as their often untraceableness –
an opportunity of extraordinary rarity indeed .
This all the more in the case of drawings on vellum. Although vellum almost was the only material for drawings of all kind before paper came up, since the 13th century it was pushed away just according to the ever growing quality of paper. Only
“ in the 17th century it received a kind of re-vitalization. Not only delicately drawn compositions, genre scenes and still lives were executed on vellum … They were also brought to a painterly impression by tender colored washes ”
(Meder, Die Handzeichnung, p. 171 f.).
The one in question here thus already ranging at the end of the re-vitalization chiefly borne by the Dutch. And, besides its special effects, although intended to be just as permanent as Vergil’s verses.
But in their confrontation with the contemporary engravings – in reverse due to direct transfer to the plate – they are now
mandatory for every collection , not maritime ones only .
And, as said
absolutely un-surpassed the thrill for the beholder
going out from such a confrontation
Original Drawing — Engraving .
And for the self-respect of the owner .
Offer no. 28,821 / price on application