John Chancellor - Final Bid

John Chancellor biography...

Final Bid

An exclusive limited edition lithograph of 500 copies

"…She bore up to the south'd dead before the wind, to hurl the whole weight of her broadside into the Naiad's rigging in the hope of disabling her. This is the instant in the painting."
John Chancellor Final bid

49cm x 61cm
Print only price: £150
Framed price from: £350

Available from Trafalgar Day, October 21st 2005
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A Foreword by Austin Hawkins

John Chancellor's niche in the genre of fine maritime art is quite unique. He became a full time artist after thirty years sea-going experience, and during the last fourteen years of his life produced a remarkable catalogue of work until his death in 1984, just as a major book about his work was in publication. All his work was either of working sailing craft or from the era of the " Wooden Walled" fighting ships of the peninsula and revolutionary period. He was from the last generation of mariners who had daily working experience of working craft under sail and enjoyed celebrating the skills of the "fraternity of those who go to sea" and was recognised as an authority on Thames sailing barges. His output of work was relatively small, being limited by the extreme amount of time he expended at the easel in addition to the time needed to discover the full story from the log of the vessels and to be sure he was portraying the ships in accordance with his self confessed "neurosis for accuracy." He was a student of meteorology punctilious about correct weather and sea conditions.

For this painting he chose a moment from the log which he must have realised would lead to the punishing requirement to create the geometric projection of the shadows from sails and rigging falling on the curved surface of other sails, so it is no surprise to learn that, in addition to the time spent on research, the execution of the work itself took 560 hours. These tightly painted ships built up by a method style of painting contrasted with his free impressionist brush and knife work to convey the drama and movement of sea conditions. He developed convincing techniques for portraying sea conditions from flat calms as we see here, to extremes of heavy weather where he has no equal. Chancellor's personal integrity, the gravitas which his sea-going years added, endow his paintings with an authenticity and an authority which is immediately apparent even to those with no sea-going experience. In terms of the depth of his knowledge and painting ability he eclipses everyone else of his generation and it is only his small output of work, which has delayed John Chancellor's work from obtaining the more widespread recognition it surely deserves.
Final Bid

"The chase started noon 22nd August 1798 until the Frenchman's final bid to escape twenty seven and a half hours later."

During the Napoleonic wars, the role of the lone patrolling frigate was a vital one, and in certain key areas, a very busy one. It is only necessary to read the log of such a ship over quite a brief period to realise that seldom did a day pass without a sighting and a chase.

Many of these, of course, were neutral or friendly. On some days four or five vessels would be chased, brought to, examined and allowed to proceed. Sometimes a chase would prove to be an enemy and an action and, hopefully, a capture would follow.

When reading the log of a patrolling frigate, it is not difficult to find a subject for a painting, for what may have been commonplace daily routine to those who manned these ships, is to us in these days a fine spectacle. So it was, when I read the Captain's and Master's logs of HMS Naiad of August of 1798. She was a fine ship, rated as a 38 and launched only the year before. She was patrolling off Cape Finisterre on the NW coast of Spain. This was always a busy area, for although at this time latitude could be found from celestial observations, longitude was always uncertain after a long ocean passage. Any conspicuous landfall was invaluable before proceeding to a destination, therefore, and Cape Finisterre was ideal for vessels bound to European ports.

On the 12th August she captured a small French privateer working out of Cadiz. On the 19th she sent her off to England with a prize crew and on the same day 'pressed' five hands from a Guernsey privateer to replace some of the men sent away. This was typical of the daily round.

The story behind the paintings starts at noon on the 22nd. While boarding a Venetian merchantman bound for Rotterdam, a sail was sighted on the horizon in the WNW running to the east'd and a close eye was kept on her. At 2pm while examining a Danish merchantman from Alicante to Rotterdam, the stranger was passed to the nor'd, still standing to the east'd before a freshening westerly wind. The Dane was cleared to proceed at 3pm, by which time the stranger was on the eastern horizon and all sail was set after her. After three hours of hard sailing the distance between them had closed to about seven miles and excitement mounted when she was identified as a frigate of about the same size.

At 6.30pm Naiad hoisted Spanish colours (hoisting false colours was an accepted practice at this time). The stranger then hoisted French colours, bore up and headed south-eastwards.

Naiad, hoisting British colours, bore up after her, and the chase was on in earnest. The wind was freshening with 'small rain' and both vessels were thrashing along under a great press of sail.

By 8pm the chase was only five miles distant, but the visibility was deteriorating and she could only just be made out ahead. At 9.30pm, although it was nearly dark, she could still be seen, for she was only 3 miles away. Then suddenly Naiad's main t'gallant mast carried away and in no time the enemy was lost in the darkness and driving rain. It was now blowing hard and a couple of reefs were pulled up in the tops'ls.
By Gordon Chancellor

Final Bid has always been in my 'top five' of my father's paintings. The print is superb, and conveys the heat of that August afternoon, and the straining cordage, and the furious activity on both ships as they prepare for showdown.

You can almost feel the French captain's frustration at his ship's slowness, due to the weed on her bottom which you can almost see below the waterline. I fully understand why John chose this moment, not just because it is the crucial moment in a long drawn out sea chase, but because he loved colour, and the long shadows of an early summer evening, and I'm sure he could hear in his head the creaking of the spars and the flogging of the canvas!

My mother I'm sure remembers as well as I do the moment, while driving in Norway in 1977, how he stopped the car and jumped out, cine camera in hand, just to capture a fleeting moment with dazzling sunbeams onto brilliant white snow. I have inherited his deep love of sunlight, which I'm sure was the 'punchline' for him of Final Bid.

John painted Final Bid while I was in my second year away at university, so I didn't see it 'coming along', although I'm certain he would have given me telephone bulletins of its progress, first the sky, then maybe a week later - the sea.

Finally the ships, working from the sterns forwards in his usual meticulous fashion. I will never forget seeing the original on an easel at a hotel in Torquay, beautifully lit. It was truly stunning, in a way that must surely put it into the category of one of the all time great marine paintings.
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