Lot 45
  • 45

Dominic Serres, R.A.

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • 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


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. 14.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The stretcher has a backboard which is not easy to remove so I did not have access to the reverse of the canvas for the purpose of this examination. The canvas however certainly appears to be lined and to be structurally sound and secure. Paint Surface The paint surface has an even varnish layer. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows numerous very small spots and thin lines of retouching in the sky, which I suspect cover canvas grain and many of which may not really be necessary. Inspection under ultra-violet light also shows a repaired tear, the vertical inpainted line of which is approximately 36 cm in length and the two horizontal lines approximately 15 cm and 9 cm in length. This repaired tear runs across the soldiers in the centre of the foreground and up into the sky above the standing solider leaning against the canon. These retouchings are just visible in a strong natural light. There are other small scattered retouchings with a number of retouchings around the framing edges. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in stable condition having been restored in the past and the repaired tear in the foreground should be noted.
"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

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.