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This painting records the defeat of the Spanish and French fleets following the Siege of Gibraltar, an unsuccessful attempt to capture the island from the British. We see the Governor of Gibraltar, General George Augustus Eliott, directing British sailors to rescue the defeated troops. They pull men from the sea while others pray for their safety. The floating battery burning in the background and firing a cannon was the secret weapon of the Spanish fleet. It consisted of a hull, which held a timber box, packed with layers of wet sand to protect it from fire.
Eliott's fierce attack and eventual victory lead to peace negotiations and the end of the siege on 5 February 1783. His ingenuity in countering the Spanish and French attack attracted much praise and remains one of the most highly regarded victories of 18th-century military history, becoming a popular subject for paintings. The preliminary oil sketch for this painting is in the collection of Bentlif Art Gallery in Maidstone, Kent, the artist's birthplace.
James Jefferys was the son of William Jefferys, a coach painter in Maidstone. He began his career in London, as apprentice to the engraver William Woollett. However he later turned to painting and studyied at the Royal Academy schools from 1772. Two years later he won a Royal Academy gold medal and the following year he was sent on a scholarship to study in Rome. He remained there for four years and it while there he was influenced by the work of Henry Fuseli and Gavin Hamilton. He exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy in 1775 and 1783. Jefferys died at the age of just 33, the result of what has been described as either ‘decline’ or a ‘neglected cold’. His surviving works are mainly drawings of neo-classical themes.
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