Great Britain: c. 1830.
Graphite on paper, 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 inches; bearing artist's initials "E D" in lower right corner; within UV glazed frame.
This pencil study of an English sailor from the 1830s (probably a coastal fisherman) illustrates the working dress worn during cold and wet weather, including knit cap and guernsey smock, petticoat trousers and boots, probably of sealskin. Duncan (1803-1882) was a leading British marine painter and watercolorist who began his career as a copyist and engraver in the London studio of Robert Havell, where he learned aquatint engraving. He was not a seaman turned painter, nor did his early career involve painting ships and the sea. Duncan painted watercolor landscapes rather in the manner of William Havell, Robert’s brother. It was only in 1826 that a project of engraving sea pieces after William John Huggins sparked his own interest in marine subjects. It was not, however, Huggin’s stiff and old-fashioned ship portraits that Duncan emulated, but Clarkson Stanfield’s highly wrought and intensely dramatic sea-pieces (Stanfield was conceded to be the best marine painter of his day).
Duncan, unlike Stanfield, had little firsthand knowledge of ships and the sea, and instead specialized in coastal scenes and coastal craft, which he sketched from life during his travels in Britain and on the Continent. Although he also worked in oil, Duncan excelled in watercolor in which he “could achieve a freshness and immediacy that transcend[ed] formula and imitation” with a “subtlety and crispness in the handling.” This was especially true of works executed during the 1830s, of which these fine watercolor drawings are examples.Item #36