Lot 43
  • 43

Dominic Serres, R.A.

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Dominic Serres, R.A.
  • The Capture of Havana, Cuba, 1762: View of the Morro Castle and boom defence before the attack
  • signed and dated, lower right: D. Serres . 1770 .
  • 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. 57–63, reproduced in colour pl. 13.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Dominic Serres. The Capture of Havana, Cuba. 1762. Signed and dated lower right D. Serres.1770. This great painting has had a fairly recent lining and the stretcher might also be a comparatively recent version of the original, with firm traditional diagonal corner bars, quite recently stained. There have been a few minor incidental damages : one little three cornered tear (about two centimetres wide) in the sky at mid right fairly low above the wooded island. Also two narrow horizontal scrapes in the lower sky further left, one about 10 centimetres long and the other slightly longer. Two other brief slanting scratches have also been retouched in the upper central sky. All these are visible under ultra violet light, with some light surface strengthening in the darker water below, and a small retouched nick near the lower right corner. Craquelure has occasionally been muted in one or two little places. These are minor imperfections however in the exceptionally beautiful condition of this painting. The delicacy and balance of tone overall, with exquisite precision in the finest detail, for instance in the explosive sinking of the ships on the right together with the sunset above. All has been perfectly preserved, without overcleaning or wear for example in the minutiae of the rigging or the smoke above. The fine definition throughout and control of light and tone has been exceptionally finely retained, reflecting the painting's stable historical background. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"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 painting shows the Spanish preparations before the siege. Havana had one of the finest deep water harbours in the West Indies, as well as major shipyards capable of building first rate men-of-war, making it a vitally important strategic target as both the capital of Spanish Cuba and Spain’s principal naval base in the Caribbean. On 6th June 1762 the British fleet was spotted approaching the city from the North, to the windward side of the island, having sailed through a treacherous stretch of sea known as the Old Bahama Channel. The Spanish garrison at Havana had expected an attack from the West, from the British naval base at Port Royal on Jamaica, and the unexpected sighting of the fleet in the North created panic among the city’s defenders. A council of war was held by the Spanish governor, Juan de Prado Mayera Portocarrero y Luna (1716–1770), at which it was decided to sink three large ships across the narrow mouth of the harbour to block the British from entering but also trapping the Spanish fleet inside. To the left of the painting can be seen the Castillo de los Tres Reyes de Morro, known to the British as the Morro Castle, on the rocky Cavannos Ridge guarding the mouth of the harbour. On the right is the entrance to the narrow channel that gave access to the harbour itself, blocked by the sunken ships and a floating boom defence strung across its mouth, whilst men and supplies are loaded into the fort. A cannon is being hoisted up the cliff face above the Shepherd's Battery and in the centre can be seen the well-fortified, star-shaped Apostles' Battery (so named for its twelve embrasures) immediately to the right. The large cloud of smoke rising from behind the fort indicates that the British bombardment from the landward side has begun.

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. Its quality and condition are exceptional and, as Alan Russett has commented, the picture is remarkable for its ‘masterly handling of the wide view and the intensity of the action, striking a careful balance between the mass of the fortified promontory, the figures at its foot and the small boat activity in the foreground’.1 The composition and handling of the staffage, as well as the quality of the architectural detail, demonstrate the strong influence of Canaletto, who had come to England at about the same time as Serres and worked in London for nearly a decade. Indeed, so deep has Serres drunk from the well of Canaletto's inspiration that this painting is ‘worth of comparison with the panoramic views of Bernardo Bellotto’,2 Canaletto's own nephew and pupil.  

1. Russett 2001, p. 57.
2. Russett 2001, p. 57.