John Wilson Carmichael
- John Wilson Carmichael
- On the Tagus
- signed and dated l.l.: J.W. Carmichael/ 1842
- oil on canvas
Sale, Sotheby's London, 29th May 1997, lot 506
purchased by the present owner
The Tagus river is the longest on the Iberian peninsula, flowing over 1000 kilometres from its source in the Albarracin mountains in Spain, to the mouth at Lisbon in Portugal. It was an exceptionally important port in the mid nineteenth century and Carmichael evokes a powerful sense of this industry and purpose in the present work.
Merchants and fishermen crowd the harbour which is being chopped up by a stiff breeze, while men-of-war are anchored in the distance, taking on stores. The main vessel to the left of the composition is a polacre-xebec, distinguished by the square rig on the foremast combined with lateen sails, a bowsprit and headsail. Such vessels were extremely popular with seaman throughout the Mediterranean. The width of their beam allowed them to fly considerable sail and gave them great speed. As such they were often employed by Corsairs.
On the coast to the right of the composition stands the distinctive Belém tower. Built between 1515 and 1521 by military architect Francisco de Arruda, it was intended to guard the gateway to Lisbon as well as the Jeronimos monastery. De Arruda had designed a number of similar fortresses in Portuguese territory in Morocco, hence the Moorish influences of arched windows and balconies as well as the ribbed cupolas of the watch towers. The tower was dedicated to the patron saint of Lisbon, St Vincent.
Although little is known about Carmichael's early life, he did go to sea at an early age sailing on a merchant vessel between ports in Spain and Portugal, thus providing first hand knowledge of the coastline in the present work.