Shipping off the northeast coast, 1845
John Wilson Carmichael is considered one of the most important marine painters of the Victorian age. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1800, the son of a shipwright, he went to sea for a time during the Napo- leonic Wars and was then apprenticed to a shipbuilder.
At the age of 23, he settled in Newcastle as a draughtsman and painter, gaining a reputation for meticulous accuracy and a flair for the atmospheric as well as the details of maritime events. These ‚documentary‘ skills stood him in good stead when he was commissioned to record the Crimean War in the Baltic in 1854/55 for the London Illustrated News. As his fame grew, Carmichael exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the British Institution in London.
Carmichael‘s intimate knowledge of maritime weath- er and the rigging of ships is also reflected in this pic- ture. It shows, in a realistic, almost finely painted man- ner, a group of merchant ships in front of a harbour entrance – marked by a lighthouse on the left edge of the picture – as they cruise, sail or try to enter the harbour safely in stormy weather and heavy seas. The rough and rocky north-east coast of England has always placed great demands on shipping; between 1740 and 2000, 350 shipwrecks are recorded between Berwick and Whitby alone. The ship‘s plank and broken mast as props in the foreground of the picture also seem to refer to this danger. The clipper in the focus of the picture, with a wave of spray lapping against its side, is aware of the danger of the nearby coastline; it has reefed its sails to reduce speed. ES