Off Fort Rouge, Calais, 1849
Clarkson Stanfield is considered one of the most re- nowned marine and stage painters of his time, co-founder and, from 1829, president of the Society of British Artists. The public is enthusiastic about the immediacy and precise elaboration of his seascapes. The influential writer John Ruskin (1819-1900) praises him extensively
for his truthful observation of the sky and his amazing ability to render the movement and transparency of water. His home in Hampstead becomes a busy meeting place for artists and writers, including Charles Dickens (1812-1870), who becomes a close friend of the painter.
In 1828, a trip to the Rhine ends prematurely because he contracted pleurisy and has to recuperate for several weeks in Calais and Boulogne. Many drawings are made during this time, so it stands to reason that Stanfield uses motifs from his enforced Calais stay as models for paintings over the years.
Fort Rouge is a former wooden fortress built on a piling off Calais in 1695 to protect the harbour from attacks by English ships. Stanfield stages a Dutch coastal sailing ship on a moving sea in front of the fortress. The wind direction is discernible from the position of the sails and makes the dark sky pushing into the picture from the left appear as a foreshadow of an approaching storm. At the same time, an early steamer can be seen in the background – again an omen of the technological change in shipping that is on the horizon.