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 17th 1835.

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 artist.

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

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