Picturing the 18th-century port
|Blackwall and the lower Thames|
Influence of the East India Company
The increasing focus on the lower reaches of the river in painting and printmaking was especially associated with the growth of the East India Company. Founded in 1600, this was the leading trading company shipping spices, fabrics and other luxury goods from India and the Far East.
The Company’s shipbuilding yards were located mainly at Blackwall, where ships had been built since the Middle Ages. But it was when it became the East India Company’s yard in the early years of the 17th century that it expanded to become the premier private yard in the country.
|Blackwall Yard from the Thames. © NMM|
The painting shows the launch of one of the 44s, probably the Adventure. There's another ship alongside, flying the Union flag. It is probably the Venerable (74 guns), which had been launched in April 1784.
The wealth of activity taking place in and around the yard demonstrates both the artist’s concern to show the thriving business of the river, but also his acute knowledge of shipping and shipbuilding.
|A small shipyard on the Thames. © NMM|
Unlike Canaletto and Scott, who were not part of a shipping community, this painting shows the artist’s inside knowledge of the subject. Holman lived by the river and was thoroughly acquainted with shipbuilding yards.
He was a member of a larger group of artists in this period who lived and worked in the Thames shipping communities, and produced paintings for similar patrons.
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