Lot 45
  • 45

Dominic Serres, R.A.

Estimate
200,000 - 300,000 GBP
Sold
221,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Dominic Serres, R.A.
  • The Capture of Havana, Cuba, August 1762: The English Battery before the Morro Castle 
  • signed and dated, lower right: D. Serres . / 1770 .
  • oil on canvas
  • 84 x 122 cm.; 33 x 48 in.

Provenance

Painted for General George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle (1724–1772) or his brother, Admiral Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel (1725–1786), and thence by inheritance to the present owners.

Exhibited

On long term loan to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 1948 to 2015.  

Literature

A. Russett, Dominic Serres R.A. War Artist to the Navy, Woodbridge 2001, pp. 57–63, reproduced in colour pl. 14.

Catalogue Note

The British forces under General Albemarle had the benefit of a fairly detailed report on the defences at Havana, provided by the Governor of Jamaica, Admiral Knowles. Knowles had memorized the details of the city’s fortifications from a trip he had made to Havana in 1756 and knew that the weakest point in the Spanish defences was the rocky ridge of the Cabana hills, known to the Spanish as Los Cavannos. On high ground to the south-east of the city, the Cabana heights overlooked the Morro Castle, which commanded both the entrance to the harbour and the town on the west side of the bay. Whilst the castle itself was virtually impregnable, built on solid rock with formidable batteries facing the sea and massive rock-cut ditches defending it to landward, the Spanish defences on the ridge were relatively light. The British landed troops on 7th June, and on the 11th Colonel Carleton led a successful assault on the heights, capturing a detached redoubt and setting up a battery. From here the British could bombard the Morro Castle from the south with heavy artillery whilst twelve British ships of the line blockaded the entrance to the harbour.

On 22 June four British batteries, totalling 12 heavy cannon and 38 mortars, opened fire, pounding the Spanish defenders. By the end of the month the British gunners were scoring 500 direct hits a day, inflicting heavy casualties on the defenders and exhausting Spanish efforts to repair the breaches in the walls. This painting shows the inside of the battery, constructed from a timber platform with a parapet of fascines (bundles of brushwood). The gunners wear blue coats, whilst the regular infantry are distinguished by their scarlet tunics. Beyond can be seen the fortress of El Morro, with its formidable defences. On the left is the bell-tower of Havana cathedral silhouetted against the hills beyond. The main harbour lies below, hidden by the trees below the ridge.

Like the view of the Morro Castle before the attack (lot 43) the composition of this painting is entirely unique. It does not relate to any of Osbridge's prints and nor is it found in any later versions by Serres. The painting is also notable in the artist's œuvre for the scale and prominence of the figures, which are such a major feature of the painting and are unmatched in any of his other works. A reduced copy of this picture is in the Museo de la Ciudad in Havana. 

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