The central ship in this painting carries both male and female passengers (the latter wearing coloured bonnets and shawls). Several men are working on the rigging of both this vessel and the ship to the right. Large red ensigns, the official maritime indication of British nationality, fly from the stern of the large ships. In the foreground, seagulls are seen in or just above the water. The ships sail off the coast of Dover and, in the background above the white cliffs, Dover Castle and the town of Dover can be made out.
Similar views of shipping off the coast of Dover were painted by earlier marine painters, including Charles Brooking (1723-1759), Francis Swaine (c.1719-1782) and Francis Holman (died 1790), and may have influenced the artist of this work, William John Huggins.
Little is known of the early life of William John Huggins. By 1812 he was a steward to Captain Thomas Buchanan of the East India Company. He was probably first taught by ship decorator and art teacher Thomas Duncan. Huggins settled in Leadenhall Street, London, close to East India House, the headquarters of the Company, and specialised in shipping and naval subjects. He produced numerous ship portraits for captains and owners of vessels used by the East India Company, collaborating with Edward Duncan, Thomas’s son, on paintings including ‘East Indiamen in the China Seas’ (c.1820-30; National Maritime Museum, Greenwich). The two artists also worked together on some 150 prints. In 1830 Huggins’s was appointed Marine Painter to William IV.
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