In this ‘Rocky Coast Scene’ a man addresses a group gathered around him. The assembly is surrounded by horses and supplies, while other men are busy rowing to or from larger ships, which are either being unloaded or prepared for a voyage.
When this work was purchased in 1965 it was titled ‘Smugglers’ and the men represented here may well be smugglers or pirates. Julius Caesar Ibbetson painted several works relating to this subject, including ‘Smugglers Unloading Casks’ (sold through Christie’s in 1978) and ‘Smugglers in a Cove’ (Sotheby’s, 1987).
However, this painting also relates to an Ibbetson work illustrated in a 1948 publication on the artist by historian Rotha Mary Clay. The book reproduces a painting with a similar landscape, which apparently shows preparations for a departure and is titled ‘Coast Scene in the Peninsular War’ (dated 1808). At 21½ by 33½ inches, it is slightly larger than this painting. Another Ibbetson work with the same dimensions as this example was sold through Sotheby’s in 1965, titled ‘Coast Scene in the Peninsular War’. It may be that the artist adapted his scenes of smugglers to produce more topical works, following the outbreak of the Peninsular War in 1807.
Julius Caesar Ibbetson was a landscape painter in oil and watercolour, and also an illustrator and etcher. He was born in Leeds and was mostly self-trained by copying Old Masters for dealers and painting pastiches of Dutch landscapes. He also worked as a scene painter. Usually on a small scale, some of his landscapes have been compared to early Gainsborough works. While based in London from about 1784 to 1798, he accompanied distinguished patrons on UK visits and tours, including trips to Wales and the Isle of Wight. From 1799 he worked chiefly in the Lake District, before moving to Masham, North Yorkshire, in 1805, where he became the protégé of local landowner William Danby. Ibbetson published ‘Painting in Oil’ in 1803. He died aged 57.
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