Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 11:39 pm 
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In "Nelson and his captains" by Ludovic Kennedy, there is a copy of a scene in the ward room of HMS Elephant the night before the attack on Copenhagen.
It is titled: "Before Copenhagen: The Ward Room of HMS Elephant" and done by Thomas Davidson, obviously in 1897 (remarkably or doubtfully in Davidson's 97th year!).
I am looking for more information on the picture (it's whereabouts, the exact persons depicted and - if any ever existed - the sources used by Davidson). Surprisingly, I was not even able to trace biographical data of Davidson on the net (besides the info that he obviosly lived from 1800 to 1898), although he seems to have done some popular historical paintings. Research on the picture just led me to some shops providing art prints, but here the trace finds an end.
Does anyone of you know more?

What strikes me in this picture is that somebody - perhaps Nelson himself - has proposed a toast, in which all the others have joined. With one exception: Edward Riou (after Kennedy), who turns his back to Nelson for having his glass refilled. Would that not have been a very improper action? Could Davidson have tried to transport a message or was he rather someone not interested in does or don'ts and would just have tried to depict a homely, optimistic mood among brother officers preparing for battle?


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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:11 am 
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I don't have any info on the picture, but here is a bio of the artist from the NMM:
Quote:
From 1894 to 1899 Davidson produced a series of scenes from Nelson’s life – some, like this ['On Hostile Ground. The landing of Nelson at Copenhagen after the battle' (PAD4061)], more imaginary than others – to inspire the country’s new generation. Davidson (1842-1919) was an historical and genre painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1863 and also at the Society of British Artists, continuing to contribute works regularly until 1903. He came from a prosperous family but was profoundly deaf from about the age of four, due to scarlet fever, and effectively dumb since he was unable to learn to speak normally. He was, none the less, taught to write and communicate by hand sign language, pursued a well-trained artistic career and was a prominent figure in supporting what became the Royal Association for the Deaf.
I don't see anything improper in Riou turning to have his glass refilled - it would have been more improper to have raised an empty glass.

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:31 am 
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Ned:

the picture is reproduced in 'Fighting Sail' published by Time Life books in 1978. The acknowledgement for the reproduction there is rather opaque - it merely says 'Derek Bayes courtesy Riou Benson'. I think this might mean that the photograph of the picture was taken by Derek Bayes, from the original in the possession of Riou Benson. A quick Google has revealed that there was a Major General Riou Benson who died in 1985 and who may or may not have been a collateral descendant of Riou since he had no heirs. This is not very helpful, I know - though an enquiry to Time Life books if they are still publishing, might help. You might also try an email to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth. I've found them incredibly helpful when I've contacted them.

Looking at the picture, I agree with Tony. Riou appears to have turned round swiftly to have his glass re-filled, an act of courtesy I think. It looks as if he has just realised that Nelson is about to propose a toast, and that his glass needs to be replenished so that he can acknowledge and drink to the toast. Riou's admiration for Nelson (and Nelson's for him) are well-known, and I don't think Davidson is trying to be controversial here. It's a very atmospheric painting, with the men packed closely together under the low beams, clearly 'raring to go', under Nelson's command. I became interested in it as I was searching for a picture of Samuel Sutton, who captained the Alcmene in the battle, but haven't been able to identify him. In fact, I don't recognise any of them apart from the figure in the foreground who is unmistakably Riou (and Nelson, of course, though even his features are not distinct. He's identifiable only by his shock of white hair and the empty sleeve.)

Please update us on anything you discover.

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:43 am 
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Here's a link to the picture - hope it works!


http://www.bridgemanartondemand.com/art ... April_1801

The note under the print there says 'Copyright Bridgeman Art Library/Private Collection/Bourne Gallery, Reigate, Surrey'.

It might be worth contacting them to see if they can elucidate further.

It might also be worth contacting the Royal Association for Deaf People to see if their archives contain any information on Davidson, since he was a prominent supporter:

http://www.royaldeaf.org.uk/

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 9:01 am 
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Just to add a little more - the Riou-Benson family were (are?) indeed related to Edward Riou. Going by the obits in national newspapers, the family appear to have had representatives in the law, the church and the army.

I believe the most prominent recent members were the General mentioned above (d.1985); a churchman, George R-B of Church Stretton, Shropshire, who died in 2002 (he was awarded a medal for disarming an man who walked into his church with a shotgun); and perhaps Charles R-B who was described as an 'impecunious gambler and raconteur' who was an associate of Lord Lucan.


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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 11:16 am 
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This is one of those paintings which is fascinating, but annoying at the same time, in that only the most important people present are named in the caption – and as if nobody could possibly be interested in the others! I am sure the artist must have known who they were, and I would also imagine that there was some sort of precedence at the table (you'll note for instance that the figure farthest away from Nelson, on the extreme left, is a lowly midshipman.) It must surely be recorded somewhere, who they all are and where they are placed.

The sparse caption in 'Nelson and his Captains' mentions that Nelson's second-in-command, Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, is to Nelson's right and which is what you might expect. It then goes on to say that Hardy, Freemantle and Foley are present. It would seem likely that Foley is near Nelson and may be the figure next to Graves, but where are the other two? (I am sure Anna, that both you and Ehchalus might like to know the whereabout of Freemantle.) Riou, we know about and the figure in military uniform, to the left of the support post, I take to be either the captain of the marines, or perhaps Lieut. Colonel Stewart, who was in charge of the army detachment in the fleet and who wrote his own journal of the events at Copenhagen, which gives us first hand insights into Nelson's character and behaviour. My guess, however, is that it's the former since Stewart was a riflemen and surely would have worn green? (a lá Sharpe.)

Regarding the position of Riou, I would agree that this is no disrespect on his part towards Nelson, but wonder if this is a ploy by the artist to add more interest to the painting since he is in the centre of the picture. Unfortunately, he seems to have inadvertently caused some to think the opposite! In reality, I would have thought that Riou would have been a little quicker off the mark (well he was a daring frigate captain!) and have his glass full and ready. It almost seems as though Nelson might be saying, 'Let us just wait, gentlemen, for Mr Riou to refill his glass.' Another ploy of artists, much as in the death of Nelson painting, is to make the deckhead (the ceiling) rather too high. None of the officers are bending in the slightest and Graves is able to raise his glass far higher than the others, and seemingly with room to spare!

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 12:54 pm 
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Devenish wrote:
I would have thought that Riou would have been a little quicker off the mark (well he was a daring frigate captain!) and have his glass full and ready. It almost seems as though Nelson might be saying, 'Let us just wait, gentlemen, for Mr Riou to refill his glass.'
18C wine glasses were small because the whole glass was downed in one when making a toast (Ok, I know we are year into the 19C here!) The servant (seaman) has probably just been round the table refilling everyone's glass. Conveniently for the artist :wink: , he has reached Riou last.

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 1:20 pm 
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Do these help?
Attachment:
Before Copenhagen 1.jpg
Before Copenhagen 1.jpg [ 63.1 KiB | Viewed 16625 times ]

Attachment:
Before Copenhagen 2.jpg
Before Copenhagen 2.jpg [ 73 KiB | Viewed 16625 times ]

Attachment:
Before Copenhagen 3.jpg
Before Copenhagen 3.jpg [ 84.12 KiB | Viewed 16625 times ]

What coat is Riou wearing?

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 4:33 pm 
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Thank you all very much for the amazing amount of answers in so short a time.

Anna: Thanks for the information about the Time Life book and the hint to the late Major General Riou Benson. If my memory doesn't play tricks on me it is through him that the manuscripts on Edward Riou have passed to the National Maritime Museum - perhaps they also have additional information on the picture. Another branch of research.
With regard to Bridgemanart and the Bourne Gallery, I already had contacted both of them. Bourne Gallery very quickly answered my inquiry, however they had to tell me that the picture has left their custody years ago and they do not know its actual whereabouts.


Tony: Thanks a lot for your biographical data, which are far more accurate and helpful than everything I have found on the net so far.

As to the scene depicted I am of similary opinion with devenish which is what roused my suspicion: Why would all the officers present have already raised their glasses, while Riou's own is still empty? Or put the other way around _ would the officer proposing the toast not wait until everybody present had his glas refilled before raising his own?
Another ploy would be the amount of empty platters etc. on the floor in the left foreground - not very navy-like in my opinion. What puzzles me also is the fact that most of the officers present are obviously just giving the toast (or might even be singing?) while Nelson, Riou, the Army/Marine officer and the midshipman on the left side remain mute. So the persons present seem to be in different states within the "toasting procedure". I have heard some artists have tried to put a whole sequence of events (like a short movie) into one picture. Might that be the case here? Refilling the glasses (Riou) - Proposing the toast (Nelson) while the audience is listening (Midshipman, Army Officer) - all the others cheering (rest of the assembly). Would such a style fit to the period in which Davidson was working?

The most detailed information I have found with regard to that dinner is the narrative attributed to Lt.Col. Stewart in "The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson with notes by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas".
Quote:
As soon as the Fleet was at anchor, the gallant Nelson sat down to table with a large party of his comrades in arms. he was in the highest spirits, and drank to a leading wind, and to the success of the ensuing day. Captains Foley, Hardy, Fremantle, Riou, Inman, his Lordship's second in Command, Admiral Graves and a few other to whom he was particular attached, were of this interesting party...

In Stewarts "Journal of the Baltic Expedition..." the event is not mentioned. Might M'Clarke/Arthur, for whose work above quoted narrative was written, might have lend a hand again?


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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 4:40 pm 
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I can't speak with any great authority - but I have always thought Davidson's pictures to be reasonably well researched. Coupled with the element of "romance" which was a vital ingredient of these type of "genre" paintings.

I think he was second only to Fred Roe in the number of Nelson-related paintings he produced. I had once intended to make a list of Davidson's Nelson paintings but unfortunately never got round to it.

It is probably only about half a dozen - I'll start another thread so as to keep this one on-topic

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 6:29 pm 
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Tony,

Your point about the small size of the wine glasses would fit in with what is happening in the picture. The fact that Riou is turning away for a refill would therefore seem the more natural in light of this, with no sign of disrespect either being given or taken. I can't say why his uniform is different than the other captains and nearer that of an admiral and wonder, perhaps, if the artist had some reason for showing Riou dressed like this. I also note that he is wearing 'Hessian' (?) boots, as is the officer to the right.

Ned,

You make an interesting observation, regarding various things going on in the painting at the same time. I am not certain this is the case here though since I imagine Davidson wanted to capture a moment before the battle, in which all of course would later play a part, and thus present a certain unity. Perhaps it is here that they are drinking to the 'leading wind'. Rather than singing, my guess is they are giving the toast, or cheering Nelson. I think I would agree with you about the clutter of plates, etc, on the deck and would have thought they would have been removed, apart perhaps from the wine container. I would imagine that the artist wanted to put something there to fill out the picture, and presumably the objects which came to mind were the empty plates!

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:49 pm 
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Tony, Kester,

although I am not well versed in naval uniforms I might have an explanation for the coat "nearer that of an admiral".
As you are all very well aware, Riou was given command of a couple of frigates, sloops and fire ships in the oncoming battle.
When, in the first years of the 20th century, one of Rious descendants (via his sister Dorothy - the only branch of the Rious surviving after the death of her two brothers) found documents of his in his attic, which are now held by the NMM. That find included a pennant his descendant thought might have been the broad pennant of a commododore, a position he believed Riou held during the battle of Copenhagen.
From this point, one might speculate that Davidson had included to his research an interview with his contemporary descendants of Riou and if they also believed that Riou held the position of commodore (a lot of "ifs", I know), then Davidson might have been tempted to give Riou an admiral-like uniform?

The question of the hessian boots is interesting. Didn't regulations allow wearing Hessian boots as an alternative to wearing shoes and stockings for the undress uniform?


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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 9:19 pm 
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The reason Davidson painted Riou in that coat is simple, I think - he was copying the miniature of Riou by Samuel Shelley which was published as an engraving just after his death in 1801. See http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/ ... y/?item=78 and http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/prints ... ID=PAD3056

But that just begs the question of why he was wearing that coat when he sat for Shelley - presumably before he left for Copenhagen, or even earlier. I took another look at the 1795-1812 uniforms, and can't see anything that resembles it. I have also never heard of a uniform for a commodore - which was always a temporary post. But then some officers wore non-regulation uniforms - but surely not instead of full dress uniform when dining with the Admiral?

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:45 am 
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To return to the present whereabouts of the picture which, according to the Bridgeman Art Library, is still in a private collection: it occurred to me that Major General Riou Benson would have named in his will the person he wanted to inherit it. And if that person has since died, his/her will should indicate the next beneficiary and so on to the present day. Unfortunately, modern wills after 1858 are not available on line, but copies are available. Whether these must be requested in person or can be copied and posted, I don't know. Does anyone?

Here's a quote from the NA website:

Probate records (1858-present)

Request copies of wills and administrations from the Probate Service. The index to these records, known as the National Probate Calendar, is available to consult at the Probate Search Room, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP (tel: +44 (0) 207 947 6000).


The picture could, of course, have been sold privately by the beneficiary which means that the trail will grow cold......

A possible (and, I think, expensive!) solution might be to consult a picture researcher such as:

http://www.picture-researcher.com/ (This is not an endorsement of this particular researcher since I know nothing of her; it's just an example of what sort of work researchers do. This one is familiar with researching pictures in private collections.)

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 Post subject: Re: Info on the "Ward Room of HMS Elephant" by Thomas Davidson
PostPosted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 5:40 pm 
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Beresford & Wilson identify those present in the painting as follows:
Attachment:
Before_Copenhagen_names_1.jpg
Before_Copenhagen_names_1.jpg [ 53.73 KiB | Viewed 16558 times ]

Attachment:
Before_Copenhagen_names_2.jpg
Before_Copenhagen_names_2.jpg [ 73.38 KiB | Viewed 16558 times ]

Attachment:
Before_Copenhagen_names_3.jpg
Before_Copenhagen_names_3.jpg [ 74.54 KiB | Viewed 16558 times ]

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