John Scott (1802-1885)
The Three-Masted Merchantman – Richard Rylands in Table Bay, Cape Town
Oil on canvas
28 x 42 1/4 in (71.1 x 107cm)
Signed and dated lower right J Scott 1870
In his book on “Ship Portrait Painters”, 1978, C. H. Ward-Jackson notes that John Scott was “an excellent and productive specialist in portraits of merchantmen off points of land as far apart as Dover and Cape Town”. This indeed is a fair assessment of Scott, who during a remarkable artistic career executed a substantial number of high quality ship portraits, of which the present oil is exemplary. Scott was born at Morpeth set amongst the beautiful Northumbrian countryside about sixteen miles north of Newcastle on 6th May 1802; just over a month later he was taken to the local village church for his christening by his parents Luke and Anne née Grant. Though he was to excel as a painter and draughtsman his career began in a very different direction since at the time of the 1841 census, when he and his wife Eleanor and their nine children were living at Westoe, South Shields, he described his main job as that of a baker. Ten years later he and some of his family were still living at South Shields at which stage Scott described himself as a grocer and mariner though he was already painting with relish and selling his art. His years as a mariner were however an invaluable preparation for him to become a successful marine artist and it was precisely because of his formative years at sea that he learnt so much about shipping, the sea and the coastal outlines. This enabled him to become perfectly adept in describing the various workings of a ship, from its rigging to how the wind caught the sails or the way in which a vessel moved through the water.
Christopher Wood’s “Dictionary of Victorian Artists” notes that John Scott trained under the marine artist John Wilson Carmichael (1800-68), which would almost certainly have been sometime before Carmichael moved from Newcastle to London during the late 1840s. It was not long after his training from Carmichael that Scott launched his own artistic career since there are many extremely competent ship portraits by him dating from the mid 1840s. Working in a style close to William John Huggins (1781-1845), who likewise specialised in ship portraits, Scott soon gave up his former professions and earned his living purely from his art alone so that by the time of the 1861 census he was describing himself as a professional marine artist. By then he and Eleanor were living at Burrows Street, South Shields with two of their children, George, a grocer and William Emiley Octavius who was still a schoolboy but grew up to become a solicitor. By 1871 Scott and his wife had moved to nearby Charlotte Street but by the time of the 1881 census the artist had become a widower so he and his son William were living with one of his daughters Eleanor and her husband Thomas Kell in nearby Victoria Street. By then Scott was nearing his eightieth birthday yet he was still painting. He survived a further four years, dying at Park Terrace South Shields on 12th October 1885, leaving a modest personal estate which was overseen by his solicitor son William.
Since most of his life on land was spent at Westoe South Shields, close to Newcastle and opposite Tynmouth where the river Tyne flows into the North Sea, it is little surprise that the nearby coastal areas and the local shipping provided the main subject of his maritime views. More highly prized and rarer were his marine views, as we see here, off the Cape of Good Hope as well as other exotic locations. Scott’s remarkable painting shows the full-rigged three-masted merchantman Richard Rylands as she rounds Table Bay, Cape Town. Richard Rylands was built in 1863 by King in New Brunswick, Canada and registered at 1,390 tons; she measured 203 feet in length with a 40 foot beam. She was firstly owned by Seddons of Liverpool who put her into the British Indian trade. During the late 1860s Seddons sold her to Vaughan Brothers, also of Liverpool, who placed her under the command of Captain Sheckell. Remaining in the Indian trade, she disappeared from record in 1877 after being sold to German owners
Such was the quality of Scott’s work that many of his works have been acquired by a number of important public collections. They can now be admired at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich as well as Tyne & Wear Museums Maritime and Industrial Collection, Shipley Art Gallery Gateshead, Hull Maritime Museum, the Laing Art Gallery Newcastle, South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Hartlepool Museum, Newcastle University, Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool, Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery, the National Museum of Wales, the Peabody Museum, Salem, Mass and the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News Virginia.