This dramatic scene shows the chaos of a naval engagement between British and Dutch fleets during the Battle of Camperdown. Crew members cling to fragments of wreckage in the sea while smoke billows as a result of cannon fire. The rigging and sails of ships are in disarray. Frantic activity of figures aboard the ships and breaking waves all around intensify the energy of the scene.
For two years, naval officer Adam Duncan blockaded the Texel (an island in the Netherlands used as a base by the Dutch Fleet). Rumours abounded that the Dutch would soon put to sea as an invasion force. When they finally sailed from Texel on 6th October 1797, Duncan set off from Yarmouth, reaching the Dutch Fleet off the North coast of Holland on 11th October, near the villages of Egmont and Camperdown. The Dutch were returning to base and may have sailed only as a display of national prestige. However, battle ensued with equal numbers of ships on each side. The long bloody engagement ended in a British victory, largely due to superior canons and gunnery. However, there were severe losses on each side. Nine Dutch ships were taken by the end of the engagement.
Philip James de Loutherbourg, was born in Germany, the son of a miniaturist and engraver. The family moved to Paris in 1755 where he studied with Carle Van Loo and Jean-Georges Wille, before entering the studio of François Joseph Casanova. He left Paris in 1768 to travel through France, Switzerland and the Rhineland. In 1771 he arrived in London, where David Garrick gave him control of the scenery at Drury Lane Theatre. He remained at the theatre when Sheridan took over. In 1781, he became a member of the Royal Academy. He travelled throughout the UK on sketching tours and began painting naval victories in the 1790s. In 1807 he was made Historical Painter to the Duke of Gloucester. He died in Hammersmith, aged 71.
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