This marine view is dominated by a naval ketch: a two-masted sailboat, with a ‘mizzenmast’, which is smaller than the foremast. The Red Ensign, the official indication of British nationality for ships, flies from the stern, while at the bow a smaller Union Jack can be seen. The stern of the vessel is adorned with decorative lanterns and sculpted designs. One sailor is half way up the rigging, while several others can be made out on the deck of the ship.
John Cleveley the elder was the son of a joiner from Newington Butts, Southwark. At about 14 he was apprenticed to a joiner and later to John Hall, a Deptford-based shipwright and boat-builder. In 1743 he became a freeman of the Shipwrights’ Company and began his main career as a shipwright in the Royal Dockyard, Deptford. He may have been taught to paint by ship painters based at Deptford. He exhibited his works at the Free Society from 1764 to 1776. His painted views of Sheerness, Chatham and Plymouth dockyards were engraved by Thomas Milton for a series of marine prints. He married Sarah and had at least seven children, including twin sons, John the younger and Robert, who became artists. He died at his home in Deptford, aged about 65.
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