John Chancellor (1925-1984)
"Chancellor's work appeals as much to the emotions as to the intellect"
Born in Portugal in 1925 to Eddie 'Chips' Chancellor, an English lawyer
and his mother Geri, a commercial artist, John's early fascination
with the sea began from the garden of the family home in the village
of Paco d'Arcos. Early one morning, aged just 5 years old, the young
John was scooped up into the arms of the family cook, who pointed
out to sea at a fleet of schooners and square-riggers under sail.
These were the 'grand bankers' sailing westwards towards the fishing
grounds of Maderia. It was a sight that captivated the impressionable
boy. Used to views of the shimmering Tagus, this was something quite
breathtaking and a scene John was to paint some forty years later
in works like 'First Home'. It was perhaps a defining moment in the
life of Chancellor, as it set the course for a lifelong love affair
with the sea.
Having sailed many differing vessels and navigated waters from Trinidad
to the Medway, John was essentially closer to the stereotype seaman
than the artist. This was reflected in his "neurosis for accuracy"
when it came to depicting not only the ships, but the sea, people
and most importantly, the rigging. His range of subjects was enormous.
He was expert at portraying the sea in all its guises; a calm summer's
morning on the North Devon coast in 'Coaling Day'; the schooner Result
battling a Force 9 gale off Ushant and HMS La Prompte in the midst
of a hurricane, en route for Bermuda in 'A Perfect Hurricane'. John's
aptitude for historic subjects is finely displayed in perhaps his
greatest ever painting, 'HMS Beagle in the Galapagos', waiting to
embark Charles Darwin from James Island, at exactly 2.15pm on October
John Chancellor eventually settled with his family in Brixham, Devon
in 1963 and had a two year flirtation with trawling, work that left
him feeling dissatisfied. It did, however, give rise to some of his
early works, as he was commissioned to paint trawler portraits by
their skippers. Steadily he began to take his painting more seriously,
encouraged by the great enthusiasm and guidance of Austin Hawkins,
who had a gallery in the town at the time. Slowly he began producing
works that exhibited his huge potential as a serious professional
Many works inevitably drew on John's own experience as a merchant
seaman: no-one quite captures, with such confidence and accuracy,
the vagaries of the sea as his paintings do. His nautical career developed
within him an affinity with the sea, borne out of a deep respect for
its many moods. His depictions of Thames barges, brigs, schooners
and other merchant craft all reflect his own life experiences from
30 years spent at sea.
'Sun Dog' is just one case in point. It depicts a Perihelion or mock
sun, an occurrence during the planet's cycle when it is closest to
the sun. When certain weather conditions combine, it appears as if
there is a second sun at a point opposite the real sun - a Sun Dog
- a phenomenon that could only be accurately depicted if experienced
first hand. John's fascination with Sun Dogs and his incredible pictorial
memory encouraged him to capture it forever in watercolour. This watercolour
is currently available.
Having bought and sold a number of Chancellor originals over the years,
Sharon has developed an understanding of the life and work of this
most gifted artist. Few would argue that John was the most talented
marine painter of the 20th century, his research and preparation unsurpassed.
Comparisons to Montague Dawson have been made, but this hugely prolific
marine painter, whilst very able, was, in Sharon's opinion, never
in the same league as Chancellor. Whilst any large marine sale will
often include a smattering of Dawson paintings, John's work is seldom
seen on the London art market. It is nevertheless, hugely sought after
and only a handful of works have ever gone through the major auction
houses. This seems only to have increased the frustration of those
ardent collectors that pepper the country and indeed, there are many
in North America too.
John's paintings go beyond an aesthetically pleasing, well-executed
marine scene; they are often definitive, historically accurate representations
of actual events completed in painstaking detail. His research would
take him to museums, the hydrographic office and public records to
ensure that every last detail was accurate.
Sadly John's life was cut short on 9th April 1984, aged 59, having
painted professionally for only 13 years, during which his complete
output numbered fewer than 150 works. Only three exhibitions, in 1973,
1976 and 1981 were ever staged (by Austin Hawkins). All three were
a sell out - the first being sold out in less than an hour.
With thanks and acknowledgement to 'The Maritime Paintings of John
Chancellor', published by David and Charles.
View works by John Chancellor
Davidson Fine Art is proud to present John Chancellor's "Final Bid"
An exclusive limited edition lithograph of 500 copies