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The Sea-Port


CAT 126. W. Floyd after Claude Lorrain. The Sea-Port, from the Picture in the Royal Collection. Published in The Art-Journal, 1859. Melville Chapin Collection.

This print takes us eighty years ahead in the history of printmaking. In contrast to the mellow softness of Earlom’s etching and mezzotint on copper in the Claudean seaports published in 1774 and 1775, Floyd displays the kind of detail that can be achieved in a line engraving in steel in this Sea-Port for the Art-Journal in 1859. Steel is more resistant to the engraver’s touch than copper, allowing the images cut into it to be multiplied and distributed in much higher numbers; whereas Earlom’s three-volume edition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis was a highly expensive undertaking that could only be subscribed to by extremely wealthy collectors, patrons, and institutions, steel engravings beginning in the 1830s helped to create an “art public” whose broadness corresponded to that of the “reading public” Hazlitt mentioned in his essay on “Mr. Angerstein’s Collection” (see CAT 125).

William Floyd flourished as a steel engraver between 1832 and 1859, engraving plates for many of the pictorial artists in Melville’s collection (Allom, Bartlett, Fielding, Stanfield, and Turner, in addition to Claude; see Hunnisett, p. 49). The text that accompanied Floyd’s engraving in The Art-Journal in 1859 was primarily concerned with the life of Claude Lorrain, indicating that Claude had spent two years studying with Godfrey Waal in Naples and acquiring his "proficiency in the knowledge of perspective." The commentator mentioned that the composition is “extremely simple in arrangement,” with “a pile of architecture—that of Italy—on the right, balanced on the left by some vessels,” with towers and ships in the middle distance (p. 52).

The subject of this seaport scene relates closely to two other images we have already seen from the same period in Claude’s career: Claude’s etching of Harbour with a large tower and Earlom’s View of a Sea Port during a Sun-set (CAT 121 and 124). In this case Floyd was working not from a Liber drawing but from the original oil painting in the collection of the Queen at Windsor Castle, which Roethlisberger catalogs as Harbour Scene (LV 19) and dates 1837 (Paintings, pp. 135-37, fig. 62; the date is now considered to be 1643). Claude’s treatment of the figures in the foreground, those in the small boats, the bales and other objects to be picked up and set down, the edging of the light on the figures and the bales—all this resembles that of Claude’s other early seaport scenes. Here the brilliance of the sun reveals the figures of sailors in the rigging on the left and shows the flag on the highest mast to be Maltese. On the right, a fresh breeze blows the flags between the round towers strongly toward the shore while also stirring up the surface of the sea, all this in contrast to the relative solidity of the figures in the foreground, including the human figure hugging, or sleeping upon, a favored bale. This is another Claudean image relating to Melville’s life as a seaside customs inspector as well as to his life as a sailor. It also relates to his life as a gallery-goer.

Melville would have seen Claude’s original painting (fig. 1 below) a decade before Floyd engraved it during his visit to Windsor Castle on November 22, 1849, ten days after his second visit to the National Gallery. Like Hazlitt, Melville was not particularly impressed with the paintings in the Royal Collection at Windsor, calling them only “cheerlessly damnatory fine”; he was more impressed with the royal stables, which were “splendid” (NN J 24). Even before arriving in England, however, Melville had been sufficiently impressed with Claude’s solar seaports to allude to them in his third novel, Mardi, published in March 1849, where he described a scene at sea in which “one of Claude’s setting summer suns would have glorified the whole” (NN M 42). The British Royal Collection Trust currently identifies the painting as Harbour Scene at Sunset.         

CAT 125 fig 1 Claude Harbour Scene at Sunset Windsor Castle.jpg

Figure 1. Claude Lorrain. Harbour Scene at Sunset, oil on canvas, 1843. Windsor Castle.

What Turner would eventually do with a scene such as the above, two decades after painting Dido Building Carthage, is seen in Regulus Leaving Carthage, acquired by Melville in the engraving below by S. Bradshaw (fig. 2; CAT number to be assigned).


Figure 2. S. Bradshaw after J. M. W. Turner. Regulus Leaving Carthage, oil on canvas, 1837. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Turner had exhibited Regulus Leaving Carthage at the Royal Academy in 1837. Unsold at his death in 1851, this painting entered the National Gallery as part of the Turner Bequest in 1856. Melville would have seen Regulus Leaving Carthage, as well as Claude’s Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, when he visited the “Vernon and Turner Galleries” at the National Gallery in April 1857 (NN J 128, 527). The engraving by Bradshaw acquired by Melville was published in London’s Art-Journal in 1859, the year in which the same journal published Floyd’s engraving of Claude’s The Sea-Port that is the subject of this entry (CAT 125).