Battle of Trafalgar 1pm
The Battle of Trafalgar, 1.00pm by Ivan Berryman. A painting from the series of Battle of Trafalgar paintings to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, 2005.
Having taken terrible punishment from the guns of the allied French and Spanish fleet as she broke through the line, HMS Victory found herself engaged by the French Redoutable, a bitter battle that saw the two ships locked together, pouring shot into one another with terrifying ferocity and which left the British Admiral, Lord Horation Nelson fatally wounded. In the background, HMS Neptune is emerging through the gunsmoke and is about to pass the wreck of the French flagship Bucentaure which Victory so spectacularly routed as she passed through the allied line. HMS Temeraire, which followed Victory through, and which was also to become embroiled on the Redoutables fight, is obscured by the smoke beyond the British flagship.
The work in progress: Ivan has made a feature on the creation of this particular painting in this series.
original pencil drawing is completed following a thorough study of the way
in which this stage of the battle unfolded. Victory has broken through the
line, passing the stern of the Bucentaure, almost gutting the French
flagship as she passes; every gun on Victory's port side fires in turn
into the Bucentaure's fragile stern galleries. Out of the view behind the
gunsmoke, Temeraire continues straight ahead as Victory turns to port, the
flagship's mizzen top dragging in the water, the whole ship having
sustained terrible damage as the squadron had approached the enemy line.
Neptune can be seen in the distance, following in Victory's wake while, on
the left of the picture, the French 74 Redoutable is turning sharply to
engage Victory. Soon, Temeraire, Redoutable and Victory will be locked
together, pounding each other with shot. It was at this point in the
battle that Admiral Nelson fell, the victim of one of Redoutable's
sharp-shooters high on her mizzen fighting top.
The drawing, having been finalized, is enlarged to the size of the 40"x30" canvas and transferred carefully. Few details are drawn at this stage. Most will be added during painting.
Having transferred the drawing, it is sealed to prevent smudging during painting and work can then begin. The basic colours of the sky and the sea are blocked in and drifting gunsmoke is added. The basic sea pattern is created and some splashes from falling shot are painted in, in the distance. More reflections in the sea will be added as the painting progresses and more smoke will be added too, to create a layering effect to separate the ships and their masts and sails. Painting of the main objects will be carefully ordered so that the most distant objects are painted first. In this case, Neptune emerging through the gunsmoke will be first to be completed. This is quite complicated as smoke drifts between the masts of the ship and through its rigging, behind some flags and sails and in front of others. Careful planning of the composition is vital.
Seen here as a section of the painting, Neptune is 90% completed. She has been painted deliberately darkly because she is passing through the acrid smoke of the shattered Bucentaure and has herself commenced firing as she approaches the Franco-Spanish line. Her upper sails are shot through in many places, the lower ones reefed to clear the ship for action. The painting is almost ready to be progressed to the next stage - the battered stern section of Villeneuve's flagship, Bucentaure. It will be necessary to show just how shattered the French ship was after Victory's broadside, but there will be a lot of smoke, too. This will have to be handled carefully!
It's hard to imagine the sort of carnage and
destruction that fifty cannon firing in turn into the wooden stern
galleries of a moderately sized ship might do, but reports of the time
suggest that hundreds of men were killed or injured in an instant as shot
flew and rebounded around inside the French flagship during that opening
salvo. It is recorded that the stern galleries of Bucentaure were
completely destroyed and many of her guns were smashed from their
carriages as the shot ripped through the entire length of both decks of
the ship. After just one broadside from Victory, this once proud ship was
finished and began to drift helplessly, eventually being completely
dismasted. She struck eventually to HMS Mars and Admiral Villeneuve was
taken, incredibly, alive.
I have had to pay careful attention to my previous paintings and earlier research notes to ensure that the ship, and the damage to it, is progressive and correct, chronologically, from painting to painting. The state of the ship at this stage of the battle is, I hope, apparent here. The approaching HMS Neptune is about to have another go as she in turn passes the drifting wreck.
the right-hand side of the painting now more or less finished, attention
turns to the Redoutable, the next most distant object in the picture. The
ship is turning hard to port in order to come alongside the Victory.
Ships, unlike motorbikes, roll outwards as they turn. The sharper the
turn, the more they lean. Redoutable's crew would have been spread pretty
thin at this time, many of them hauling at the ropes to control the sail,
others standing ready at the guns on both decks. Some of her guns have
commenced firing already as the ship rolls, taking advantage of the
elevation in order to rake Victory's masts, sails and rigging. This was
common practice, as a ship with no masts or sail was dead in the water and
could easily be forced to strike her colours and be taken as a prize.
Work has begun, as usual, on the most distant parts of the ship, in this case the French tricolour ensign and the mizzen mast and rigging. Some wisps of smoke have been added which will appear to be drifting between her masts. This process will be repeated throughout the painting of Redoutable and again when work begins on HMS Victory.
Because the ship's shrouds and ratlines are
anchored below the gunwale, it is now necessary to paint in the hull,
hammock netting and gun ports. This will mean painting almost everything
in, except the anchors and bow details. Smoke is added here and there and
the flash of the firing cannon is reflected in the sea. Work can now being
on the main mast, fighting top and main topgallant mast and the ensign
billowing. Care is taken to illustrate how the standing rigging on the far
side is slightly slacker than that nearest. This is because the lean of
the ship causes the weight of the masts to shift slightly, placing a
greater strain on the outboard rigging.
Redoutable is showing little battle damage at this point. Within about an hour, however, she will be shot through in numerous places, dismasted and in danger of sinking altogether.
looking significantly more complete, the main sails have been painted in
and the foremast and most of its rigging addressed. This process is more
or less a repeat of the techniques used on the main mast, but the foresail
will be rather more damaged by shot and musket fire. The curves of the
headrails have been added with special attention being paid to the
lighting as it passes through some of the gaps in the timbers. The
bowsprit assembly, its rigging, bowchains and figurehead are ready to be
painted in and Redoutable's anchors are complete, depicted in the stowed
It may be worth noting that, at the moment that I have depicted here, Redoutable probably had the upper hand over HMS Victory as she had had to change course little as the British flagship barged through the enemy line of battle and began to turn around Bucentaure. Victory's wheel had been shattered by enemy shot even before she had fired a single round and she was being steered below deck by a crew manually operating her massive tiller. Victory's sails, too, were in a sorry state and her mizzen top was overboard and dragging. She must have been a handful!
Finished! Redoutable is now complete, her
foremast, bowsprit and figurehead adding the final touches to a dramatic
part of the painting. The damage to her sails is interesting because we
have to bear in mind that a shot passing through the foresail would,
almost certainly, pass through the mainsail too, so care must be taken to
mimic the holes in each sail - not in every case, but certainly in some.
Not all the holes would be large ones, either, as musket balls peppered
the sails even more than cannon shot. Because the sails are under tension,
remember that holes would create creases. When painting this, it makes
sense to paint the creases first, then put holes along the crease lines.
Now work can begin on the central - and nearest - ship in the picture, Nelson's flagship HMS Victory.
the ensign and furled spanker sail is painted in, work begins on Victory's
chaotic upper decks.
cross hail of enemy shot had carried away men, fixtures and rigging and
her wheel was shattered. Captain Hardy, standing at Nelson's side,
narrowly avoided injury as a splinter from the impact of a shot carried
away the buckle of his left shoe. The Admiral's secretary, John Scott, was
not so lucky, being cut in two by a cannonball as he stood talking to
Hardy (much of the blood on Nelson's tunic, preserved today at the
National Maritime Museum, is that of poor Scott, whose remains were
unceremoniously dumped over the side). A group of eight marines that had
been gathered on the deck were wiped out and the ship's mizzen top had
been smashed by a double shot and had fallen over the side.
It was important to create some of this mayhem before going any further because much of the action on deck will become obscured by smoke, hammock netting and some of the rigging on the port side. On the far side of the ship, the shrouds, ratlines and some of the running rigging is added now. With so much damage hanging over the side, it will be necessary to work up the hull at this stage, before moving on to the masts and sails.
Work on the hull is now well underway with
the basic colours, contours and lighting in place. Some of the damage
caused by cannon shot deflecting off the wooden hull has already been
added, together with some damage to the hammock netting above the
gunwales. Further back, the fallen mizzen top has become tangled in the
boat davits and the crew will be busy cutting it free.
Remember that these ships still had to be
sailed and managed as the battle raged on. If a sail or mast was not lost
completely, attempts would be made to salvage it for use as a spare or for
repairs after the battle. It was quite common for these huge vessels
simply to drift for the duration of the battle, firing at whatever they
should come upon because they did not have the available men to go aloft
or haul on the ropes. Ships' wheels and rudders were especially vulnerable
and, with their sails shot through dozens of times, the ships soon lost
momentum. Even so, when dismasted and dead in the water, these hulks were
approached with caution as their gunners never gave up the fight until
ordered to do so by their commanding officers.
At this stage, none of Victory's gunports has been painted in and the headrails, bow decorations and anchors are left off.
Victory's main mast, flags and sails complete, the painting is moving
toward completion and the overall effect created by the lighting, the
rolling sea and the gunsmoke can be perceived for the first time. The
gunports have been painted now, some with their cannon rolled out and
ready to fire, some with the guns recoiled. Cordite smoke is issuing from
some of the gunports and some is escaping through the deck grating.
attention is drawn to the fallen studdingsails that hang from the port
side yards. Some of these were shot away during the approach to the enemy
line and some were torn away as Victory tangled with Bucentaure's mizzen
gaff as she brushed past the French flagship during her opening salvo. As
with Redoutable, painting of the foremast and sails will be a similar
process to the main, and more fallen studdingsails and lots of damage to
the foresails will add to the drama.
After the foremast, work will continue on the forecastle, headrails and bow decoration and then the bowsprit.
The mainmast, standing rigging, sails and
running rigging are now completed, although rigging between the bowsprit,
forestay and other inter-connecting features cannot be added until the
bowsprit itself has been painted. At Victory's foretopgallant the
admiral's flag can be seen, a simple red cross of St George on a white
background. Another union jack will be flying from her foretop preventer
stay, just above the jib.
Throughout the painting of the masts and rigging, small adjustments have been made to the hull details and lighting. The dark shadows formed beneath the shroud channels and under the scallop of the bow assembly significantly darken this sunless side of the ship, whilst a few carefully placed highlights to the far side lend some contrast.
of the forecastle, port-side cathead and headrails are now in place and
the hull is ready to receive the two massive anchors. On the opposite
side, the starboard cathead has been shot away. The anchor had to be cut
free, although little of this action will be visible, as most of it will
be obscured by the bowsprit and figurehead.
On the nearest side, I have streaked the smoke to give the effect of the sunlight passing through it, between the many features and protuberances. These tiny details add so much to the realism of a painting and are so satisfying when they work.
Nearly there! Looking as grand as ever, but
much the worse for wear, the full extent of the damage caused to HMS
Victory during the first hour of battle is evident now, as the painting
enters its final stages. At the battle's end, Nelson's flagship had lost
her mizzen some nine feet above the deck, the maintop, her foretop, most
of her bowsprit and her hull was peppered and splintered by shot.
With the flying jib boom shot away, some
standing and running rigging has been left dangling from the foremast and
across the jib itself. The figurehead has been completed, taking care to
note that the arm of the cupid on the larboard side had been shot off (and
a leg of the figure on the other side, too!) in that first hail of enemy
cannon fire. Much of the rigging to and from the bowsprit is damaged and
trailing in the water. The port anchors are now in place in the fully
stowed position and more gunsmoke has been laid over the entire scene,
just as it must have been on that fateful day.
As I approach the end of this painting, it is worth reflecting on how lucky we are to be able to visit HMS Victory today, which has been lovingly restored to its Trafalgar state. There is so much to be learned about how this ship - and others like it - prepared themselves for battle, how they were handled during the battle and how, using only the wind and shrewd tactics, an advantage could be gained to secure an early victory with the minimum loss of life and ships.
finished painting - signed, varnished and ready for delivery. There are
one or two final points to note as work draws to a close. Mention is
sometimes made of the black bands on the masts of these ships and history
has recorded that Nelson, in his constant quest to ensure that the
nationalities of ships in the height of battle are easily identifiable,
ordered that all British ships paint their mast bands and hoops yellow,
the same colour as the masts. France and Spain continued with the
tradition of black bands. This was perhaps more far-sighted than it may at
first seem because masts - or, at least, parts of them - were falling
throughout the battle and, with them, the colours and flags that might
have been the only identification. It wasn't unknown for ships of the same
nationality to fire upon one another in the confusion.
Returning, briefly, to the subject of flags, note that the union jack now includes the red diagonal stripes of Wales, not present on the British colours at most other sea battles prior to Trafalgar.
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