Lot 44
  • 44

Dominic Serres, R.A.

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Dominic Serres, R.A.
  • 'The Cathedral at Havana, August–September 1762': View of the church of San Francisco de Asís, Havana, Cuba
  • 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. 58–63, reproduced in colour pl. 17.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Dominic Serres. The Cathedral at Havana 1762. This painting has had a fairly recent lining and has a strong stretcher apparently based on the original with diagonal corner bars, freshly stained. The remarkable condition of these paintings by Serres reflects their stable background, with minimal intervention apparently over time. Their pure, calm paint surface and undisturbed brushwork is rarely found. There are a few minuscule touches in the sky, mainly in the centre where one or two are slightly larger, with some little retouchings concentrated around the outer edge of the dome itself, possibly covering a pentiment. However the overall condition is exceptionally intact, with unworn pristine detail crisply preserved. 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 is one of two scenes painted by Serres for the Keppel family showing Havana after its capture. The other is a view of the Piazza at Havana and is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Historically the painting has always been known incorrectly as 'The Cathedral at Havana'. The central building is in fact the late colonial baroque church of San Francisco de Asís, a monastic church from the 1730s. Following the surrender of the town, great care was taken to grant the defeated Spanish magnanimous terms. In this picture Serres is at pains to show British troops and Spanish civilians in apparent harmony. The composition is taken from one of a set of six prints produced by Elias Durnford, an engineer stationed in Havana as part of Albemarle’s occupying force, and the view of the church is taken from the Alcalde’s (Spanish magistrate) house, looking across the square. Serres' inclusion of a detachment of British redcoats marching towards a guard posted by a sentry box lends a more military feel that is absent in Durnford’s original, though the composition and detailed staffage show an obvious debt to the work of Serres' close friend Paul Sandby, as well as the work of Canaletto who had spent nearly ten years in England in the 1740s and ’50s and whose work Serres would have known. Although Serres was not present at the capture of Havana himself, none-the-less he was intimately familiar with the city and had a detailed knowledge of its topography and surroundings, having lived there for several years in the 1740s. He was therefore able to bring his own first-hand knowledge of the light and atmosphere of Havana to bear, infusing Durnford's view with the evocative intimacy of personal acquaintance.

This composition is unique in Serres' œuvre and is not known in any other versions by the artist. As with many of the Albemarle series it appears to have been a one off commission for one of his most important patrons, who had a special connection to the events depicted.