This is a view of Portsmouth Harbour. The old semaphore tower, which transmitted information using a system of pivoting shutters, can be seen to the right of the composition. The tower was destroyed by fire in 1913. The large ship in the distance is thought to be ‘HMS Victory’, Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, which is still in Portsmouth Harbour today. To the right of this, hulks can be seen. Hulks are ships moored in a permanent position. Although afloat, they are no longer fit to go to sea; the rigging and internal equipment may have been removed and the vessels converted to be used as accommodation. In the case of these examples, pitched roofs have also been added. Some hulks were used as prisons.
The coast around Portsmouth was an area the artist William Adolphus Knell painted frequently during his career. This work may be ‘Portsmouth from Spithead’, exhibited at the Society of British Artists in London by Knell in 1826.
William Adolphus Knell, marine painter, was born in Carisbrooke, Hampshire. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1825. During his career he shifted from a Dutch 17th-century style of marine painting to a lighter English manner. Although most of his works depict inshore scenes of England, France and the Low Countries, his major paintings show naval engagements. Eight of his drawings were reproduced in aquatint to illustrate ‘Epitome, Historical and Statistical, Descriptive of the Royal Naval Services of England’ (published 1841). Knell exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Society of British Artists in London. He died in London at about the age of 74 and was buried in Abney Park cemetery, Stoke Newington.
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