Lot 117
  • 117

John Wilson Carmichael

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • John Wilson Carmichael
  • The Opening Engagement at Trafalgar; H.M.S. 'Royal Sovereign' raking the stern of the Spanish flagship 'Santa Ana'
  • signed and dated lower right: JW Carmichael/ 1856
  • oil on canvas
  • 106 by 180.3cm.; 41¾ by 71in.


Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby's, 30 May 1996, lot 29;
With Richard Green, London;
Where acquired by the present owner.

Catalogue Note

Britain’s famous victory over the combined Spanish and French fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was the Royal Navy’s greatest victory - affirming Britain’s maritime supremacy and dashing Napoleon’s ambitions for an invasion. Lacking a numerical advantage but confident in the superior seamanship and gunnery of his crews, Lord Nelson devised a bold and unorthodox military tactic to split the enemy line by attacking it in two columns. It proved a masterful stroke, and his death in the course of his greatest triumph immortalised his memory in the nation’s history. The subject has been enduringly popular among Britain's painters, not least in J. W. M. Turner’s The Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October 1805 (National Maritime Museum, London) commissioned by King George IV in the early 1820s. Turner’s work influenced John Wilson Carmichael, who became one of Britain’s leading maritime painters in the 19th century with a commanding eye for detail and atmosphere. His obituary declared: ‘No artist that ever devoted himself to marine painting cultivated it as a study with so much enthusiasm and success’ (Art Journal, 1868).

In the present painting, Carmichael depicts the decisive moment when Rear Admiral Lord Collingwood, in command of ‘Royal Sovereign’, broke through the Spanish line and rounded on ‘Santa Ana’ – the huge 112-gun Spanish flagship of Vice-Admiral de Alava. All fifty of 'Royal Sovereign’s' port broadside, double shotted, poured into ‘Santa Ana’s’ unprotected stern at a range of thirty yards. Then, putting his helm hard over, Collingwood ranged up the lee side of the Spaniard for the coup de grace. It proved the brilliance of Nelson’s strategy, and Collingwood’s manoeuvre was completed even before ‘Victory’ herself entered the fray at the head of the other column. The drama of this decisive action is superbly realised by Carmichael, in which the action of the engagement is contrasted with the calmness of the sea recorded that day. It was only after that a storm blew in, further disbanding the remains of the enemy fleet.