Lot 6
  • 6

Francis Holman 1729-1790

Estimate
60,000 - 80,000 GBP
Sold
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Description

  • Francis Holman
  • Action between Lord Hood and the Count de Grasse off Basse Terre, 26th January 1782
  • signed l.l.:F HOLMAN/1783
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

By family descent

Exhibited

Royal Academy, 1784, no.337

Catalogue Note

The significant naval action depicted by Holman in this magnificent painting took place on 26th January 1782. Samuel Hood (fig.1), newly appointed a rear admiral, had been sent to the West Indies in January 1781 to join Admiral Rodney’s fleet at St Lucia. The French fleet under Count de Grasse were making strenuous efforts to obtain the command of the sea, and the British and French were involved in a number of small actions. On 14th January 1782, Hood was informed by the Governor of St Kitts island that a large French fleet had been seen from the top of the island of Nevis. The French anchored in Frigate Bay off Basse Terre to the west of St Kitts, and Hood sailed there, intent on surprising them and launching a dawn attack.  He was thwarted by the collision of the two British ships, which alerted the French to his presence. De Grasse decided to put to sea and, by a brilliant manoeuvre, Hood seized the anchorage which the French had vacated. It was a superb defensive position, as the edge of the sea shelf dropped steeply away, making it impossible for the French to anchor near them.   Lord Robert Manners, captain of the Resolution which was part of Hood’s fleet, described it as "the most masterly manoeuvre I ever saw", and William Laird Clowes remarked that "Nelson himself never did a more brilliant deed than this of Hood’s" (The Royal Navy, A History from Earliest Times to the Present, 1898, Vol III, p. 516).  At between 8.30 and 9 am on the morning of January 26th, de Grasse attacked the British in a determined effort to regain his anchorage.  His attempt failed and he tried again in the afternoon, again without success. In the following days the island of St Kitts fell to the French, and the French fleet, already larger than Hood’s, was increased to 32 ships. The French admiral hoped to avenge his humiliation by tempting Hood to put to sea, but Hood cleverly slipped out of the anchorage at night and sailed towards Antigua. "When de Grasse opened his eyes next morning, the British were no longer to be seen" (W.L. Clowes op.cit.p 518).

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