Lot 42
  • 42

Dominic Serres, R.A.

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Dominic Serres, R.A.
  • The Capture of Havana, Cuba: The taking of the town by British forces under the command of the Earl of Albemarle, 14 August 1762
  • oil on canvas


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.


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


A. Russett, Dominic Serres R.A. War Artist to the Navy, Woodbridge 2001, pp. 55–63.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The painting was examined with the backboard in place and appears to be lined and structurally sound and secure. Paint surface The paint surface has an even varnish layer. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a number of very small retouchings, the majority of which are small spots and thin lines, all of which appear to have been carefully and minimally applied. There are a number of small spots in the sky and also a thin horizontal line which is approximately 5 cm in length and is 9 cm below the upper horizontal framing edge. There is a thin vertical line just below this, which is approximately 12 cm in length. There are more spots of retouching in the water, the most concentrated areas being above the rowing boats in the centre of the composition and in the darker shadows in the foreground. There would appear to be very few retouchings on the buildings, ships and boats, the fine details of which appear to be very well preserved. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition, having obviously been carefully restored in the past, and no further work is required.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This magnificent panorama is unquestionably the finest among the important series of Albemarle views of the capture of Havana. It depicts the events of the 14th August 1762, shortly after the Spanish capitulation and just before the official surrender of the town. Having landed troops and established themselves on the high ground above El Morro the British dug in, installing heavy artillery on the ridge of the Cabana heights (see lot 45). On 22 June the four British batteries opened fire, pounding the Spanish defenders. By July, under cover of the artillery bombardment, breastworks had been erected and sappers began sinking mines under the walls. Finally on 29th July the mines were sprung and the British stormed El Morro, mortally wounding the Spanish commander during the fierce hand to hand fighting. With the fort captured, batteries were built along the north side of the harbour, from the Morro to the Cabana heights. By 11th August the batteries were complete, and following repeated Spanish refusals to surrender, Albemarle opened fire on Havana. By 2 pm the city’s remaining defences in the Castillo San Salvador de la Punta had been silenced and the Governor, Don Juan de Prado, sued for terms. He had no other choice but to surrender.

The terms of Spanish capitulation were concluded on 13th August, and this painting shows British land forces in flat boats going to take possession of the Punto Castle and the north gate of the city. On the left His Majesty’s Sloops of War Bonetta (10 guns) and Cygnet (18 guns) can be seen assisting to open the boom defence, whilst the Union Jack flies from the flagpole atop the ruins of the heavily shelled fortress of El Morro. To the left is a magnificently detailed and extensive panoramic view of the walled city of Old Havana, surely the finest and most important early view of the city ever painted. The skyline is punctuated by the spires of Havana's many churches and each building is meticulously delineated, demonstrating the intimate first hand knowledge of an artist who had spent several years living in the city in his youth. Beyond lies Havana's grand harbour, the jewel of the Caribbean, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. 

The composition of this painting is similar to that in Orsbridge's print of the same subject, though with several notable differences.1 Here Serres raises the perspective giving a more panoramic view of the city, its harbour and the surrounding countryside. The viewpoint is also changed, being shifted slightly to the north-west, altering the angle from which the Morro Castle is seen and allowing for a more direct view down the mouth of the channel and into the harbour. The position of the  two sloops and the flat boats loaded with troops are also different. This sweeping vista, with its ‘strong landscape element in which he excelled’,2 is one of Serres' most sophisticated views and clearly demonstrates the influence of Canaletto, who came to London at about the same time as Serres and who he could even have met through his close friend Paul Sandby. Compare for example the balancing of the sweeping cityscape with the numerous flotilla of small boats and the bustle of foreground activity with Canaletto's majestic view of London and the River Thames with St Paul’s Cathedral on Lord Mayor’s Day (Lobkowicz Palace, Prague, fig. 1).  

The composition was clearly a popular one and a version in oil that is signed and dated 1767, though again with a number of differences in the composition and significantly smaller in size, was recently sold in these rooms, 9 July 2014, lot 60 (together with a view from inside the harbour). Another small version is in a private collection. In terms of quality, scale and provenance, however, none can be compared to the present painting, which is arguably one of the finest paintings Serres ever produced.

1. For a reproduction of the print see Russett 2001, p. 55, pl. 29.
2. Russett 2001, p. 57.