Thursday, December 31, 2015

Giant Demon Attacks a Ship, c1775

"Giant Demon Attacks a Ship," artist unknown, c1775, Freer Sackler Gallery.

Special thanks to William Knight for bringing this to my attention!

Being no expert on India, I will rely on the curators of the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler Gallery to lend context to this piece:
Popular tales and lively images played a role in transmitting beliefs and values to the Jain community. The Shripalarasa is a narrative that recounts the wondrous adventures of the Jain Prince Shripala, who travels to distant lands in search of trade and wealth. In this unusually large and vivacious painting, the artist represents the Prince's ship as a British vessel. The inscriptions scattered across the painting, which repetively [sic] identify parts of the ship, indicate a fascination with seafaring. The depiction of the Union Jack lends immediacy to a story that took place long before the British came to India.
 The artist of this painting is using a British vessel (the Indiaman) to put a modern twist on an old tale, but the Indiaman is the only nod to British seapower. The men on deck are clad entirely in the clothes of India. Given that, I will not be adding the usual tags to this piece, as it does not advance our knowledge of the dress of common British sailors.

A few characters here and there have a passing similarity to British sailors, but it is likely that the artist is trying to evoke a tale that Indians can relate to, rather than a factual depiction of British sailors.

A pair of hearty tars stand atop a spritsail yard. On the right is a man clutching a forestay who appears to be an Indian sailor. His long eyes and dark mustache lead me to believe this. British sailors were clean shaven, as with the blonde man on the left with the less angular eyes. Both men wear red caps with jackets that end above the mid thigh. Both are without waistcoat or shirt beneath. Notably, if the man on the left is indeed European, this is the first image I have seen of a British sailor not wearing shoes aboard a ship.

Much like his shipmates, this man wears a red cap, long jacket, and tight fitting breeches. As with all the figures in this piece, he is not clothed as a British sailor, but as an Indian sailor.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Commanders Engaged at Sea / Sea Amusement, 1785

"Commanders Engaged at Sea," Thomas Rowlandson, 1785, Royal Collection Trust.

"Sea Amusement or Commanders in Chief of Cup and Ball on a Cruise," Thomas Rowlandson, 1785, National Maritime Museum.

The addition of the colorized piece to this year and a half old post, allowing a nice revision, comes to my attention from the ever attentive Adam Hodges-LeClaire.

In a pretty typical piece by Rowlandson, a pair of officers waste time in what appears to be the gunroom or the captain's cabin. The print in the Royal Collection Trust is the same as that of the National Maritime Museum, save for the fact that the NMM's print is colorized and they have different titles.

Generally speaking, the study of officer's uniforms is not the purpose of this project. I will not focus on the gentlemen in the center of the frame, but the surly looking steward just behind them.

The disinterested tar pours their tea with downcast eyes. His short jacket has a mariner's cuffs which are fastened with two brass buttons. In his role as a steward, he likely was required to show some semblance of an orderly uniform. This may explain why the cuffs are buttoned when so many images show them wide open. His neckcloth is white striped with red. From beneath the table we can see that he wears round toed shoes and a pair of blue trousers with loose legs that end just above his ankle. His stockings are white.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tempora mutantur, et Nos mutamur in illis, 1748

Tempora mutantur, et Nos mutamur in illis, unknown artist, 1748, British Museum.

Once more I have Adam Hodges-LeClaire to thank for digging up this work!

John Richard Moores in his "Representations of France in English Satirical Prints, 1740-1832," pages 56-57, relates the meaning behind this dense political cartoon, stating that it is "voicing dissatisfaction toward the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which concluded the War of Austrian Succession." The artist depicts:
the Earl of Sandwhich (1718-1792), the plenipotentiary who negotiated the treaty on behalf of Britain, who stabs the British Lion with his knife. 'Dam Posterity I'll get Money.'
There's a lot more symbolism going on here, but one thing that Moores does not address is the sailor in the background, holding out his hat toward a gentleman in red.

"Pray your Honour," begs the sailor, "Pity a Poor Disbanded Seaman."

"My Lad One Year more would have done for us and have Brought our Enemies to," replies the well dressed man.

The artist argues that the war ended too early, and that the end of the war brought loyal sailors to destitution. Our gentleman's reply ("would have...Brought our Enemies to") perhaps implies that further prize money from the capture of more enemy vessels would have helped ease the transition into unemployment for these tars.

Given the reversed cocked hat, broken spyglass, bob wig, and dissatisfied  expression, it may be safely assumed that the gentleman is a naval officer. This print was released in 1748, the same year that Royal Navy uniform regulations were first instituted, and so we should not take the decision of the colorist as evidence that he is not among the brotherhood of officers.

A quick note, I have chosen to include the cocked hat and bob wig in the tags for his post as reference for future study. They are not being worn by the common sailor.

The sailor's hair is remarkably close cut, and perhaps curly. His neckcloth is long and white, tied close. He wears a single breasted jacket with flap pockets at the waist which do not reach the cloth covered buttons. His mariner's cuffs are open with three cloth covered buttons. In his outstretched right hand is a round hat with narrow brim, and in his left is a walking stick. Hanging down below the skirts of our sailor's blue jacket is a pair of slops/petticoat trousers, over white stockings and pointed toe shoes with rectangular buckles.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jack Tar in Mass Media: The American Revolution

One of the reasons I started this project was to clear up misconceptions about the appearance of common sailors in the period. This post will be something of a lark, a break from my examinations of period illustrations, prints, and paintings to critique depictions of sailors in my period in mass media. This blog is certainly not Frock Flicks (which, by the by, I highly recommend), but I think this should be a fun distraction. To keep from going too far afield, I'm focusing just on the American Revolution today. 

Snark and nitpicking ahead!

Too often Jack Tar is depicted as a mid-nineteenth century sailor would have dressed. This is thanks in large part to Jack Coggins' 1969 book Ships and Seamen of the American Revolution and John Mollo's otherwise pretty good 1975 Uniforms of the American Revolution in Colora portion of which I addressed in the pastThe idea that sailors in the past wore sennit hats with a broad black ribbon around the crown and bound in white tape, or perhaps coated in tar or pitch, is emphasized with frustrating regularity in mass media. For example, this chap in HBO's John Adams, Episode 2: "Independence," around one hour and 25 minutes in.

Leaving aside that his trousers look to be cotton, the folded back lapels neatly buttoned, and the incredibly loose neckcloth that dangles over his chest, the hat gets my goat. I've seen nothing in any of the images I've examined to support such headware.

The show does redeem itself somewhat in the third episode, "Don't Tread on Me," about twelve and a half minutes in.

These outfits are more practical. The overcoats are fine, especially given the image of the "Sailor Sentinel" painted by Gabriel Bray in 1774. The biggest issue is what's missing. Nobody is wearing trousers or petticoat trousers. Only one sailor has a blue jacket that we can see. Only one or two of the tars have round hats, and every single cocked hat (of which there are three or four shades, as opposed to the overwhelmingly dominant black) has its point forward. The point is, almost none of these men look like sailors. Seconds later, we get a view of the foc'sle head.

This shot is improved insofar as one man is wearing a blue jacket, and another (if you look closely) is wearing a pair of trousers. It is unfortunate that the otherwise pretty well dressed Continental Navy officer is wearing his overcoat hanging off the shoulder like the heroine on the cover of a cheap paperback romance.

"Embrace me, my sweet!
In the image below our sailors wear jackets that still have those fairly uncommon buttoned back lapels, and one of those neckcloths is as short as a bowtie, but at least AMC's Turn manages to get a bit closer with a woolen cap, linen work cap, and neckcloths that are actually fitted around the neck. These guys actually look like sailors! This screenshot is from season one, episode three: "Of Cabbages and Kings," about 42 minutes in.

Before we give Turn too much credit, take a look at this abomination from season two, episode four: "Men of Blood."

What the actual hell? 

The filmmakers have a whole "privateer" crew that are dressed like they came out of Pirates of the Caribbean. J.L. Bell, of the Boston 1775 blog, covered this silliness over at Den of Geek: privateers and pirates are not simply a 1:1 comparison. At that, pirates of the late eighteenth century didn't dress like they were going to the Renaissance Faire; they dressed like sailors because they were damned sailors.

This "privateer" captain wears a black hat with the brim bound in a fancy tape and a nice cockade, which about the most accurate thing we see. Otherwise he has a black shirt (has anybody actually seen a black shirt on a mariner?), a strange black bandage or cap around his head, long and untamed hair and drapes down over his shoulders, and for some damned reason, a leather brace. Is he a right hand dominant archer? What the hell purpose does that serve?

In fairness, vambraces do make an appearance in a 1774 Gabriel Bray illustration of a sailor and marine (or possibly naval officer) ashore, but they look nothing like Captain Arr's brace here. That thin leather would do nothing against a cutlass blow.

TV shows aren't the only culprits for bad depictions of sailors.

Via Gamespot

This screenshot comes to us from the video game Assassin's Creed 3. Just like John Adams, we run into the problem of sailors looking nothing like sailors. Denim waistcoats abound, which make no goddamn sense. Were these men pressed from a 1980's biker gang?

Some sailors wear red sashes, something that is pretty much absent on British and American sailors, though more common among French. Many of these supposed tars wear gaiters and tall boots, which is unheard of. Not a single one of them wears a hat, save for the captain. The only nod to these men being sailors is that one of them wears a shirt with broad blue and white stripes running horizontally. This might make sense if they were nineteenth century Russians.

Overall, a pretty abysmal show on three of the most successful forms of mass media to depict sailors in this era. Can you think of a production that put up a better fight? How about movies, video games, comics, or other visual media that did just as poorly or worse? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jack on a Cruise, 1780

"Jack on a Cruise" M. Darly, 1780, Library of Congress.

"Jack on a Cruise," M. Darly, 1780, British Museum.

features a sailor giving chase to a young lady, calling out "Avast there - back your Main-top-sail!

The sailor in this piece is damnably well dressed! His round hat with short brim has a dashing bow that might be silk. His hair is shoulder length, but not quite so loose as many other sailors we've seen. The neckcloth is very neatly tied like a mid-nineteenth century cravat, and appears to be black as well.

Jack's hat is a wide brimmed black piece with a remarkably large cockade or bow, also of black. Jack's hair is long, hanging down of the back of his neck. A white collar peaks up from under the black cravat tied at his neck. His jacket resembles a military regimental coat, rather than a sailor's jacket: the lapels (white in the Library of Congress piece, as well as on the half of the jacket the colorist didn't get to on the British Museum's copy) are held back by brass buttons to the blue body. Beneath it is a double breasted waistcoat with matching buttons and narrow vertical stripes. Jacke's trousers are also striped, though it appears in the British Museum copy that they are blue trousers with narrow white stripes running vertically. The Library of Congress version shows stripes that are roughly equal in size both light and dark.

In both versions he wears white stockings with pointed toe shoes and rectangular buckles. In his left hand is a walking stick, and a sword or cutlass hangs from his waist.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Jack England Fighting the Four Confederates, 1781

Jack England Fighting the Four Confederates, John Smith, 1781, Lewis Walpole Library.

Jack England Fighting the Four Confederates, John Smith, 1781, British Museum.

Our title character and personification of the empire stands bow legged, with his arms crossed as he confronts the caricatures of "Don Diego" (Spain), "Monsieur Louis Baboon" (France), "Yanky Doodle" (America), and 'Mynheer Frog" (the Dutch). Monsieur Baboon turns to puke, Yanky Doodle falls, and Don Diego reels with blood dripping down his face. Mynheer Frog stands alone, but not confident, exclaiming "I have almost forgot how to fight."

Jack England is ready to fight, but laments, "Sink me but I cou'd best them all if our Land Lubbers wou'd but Pull together." This may be Smith's commentary on the frustrations the army was facing in North America, or on the failure of politicians to effectively lead the fight.

Jack England wears a black round hat with a short brim, beneath which flows hair cut just above the shoulders. He wears a black neckcloth, tied into a knot at the front. In the Walpole copy his double breasted waistcoat is purple, and it is red in the British Museum's piece. In both it ends below the waist, and is fitted with cloth covered buttons. Jack's single breasted blue jacket (a sky blue in the British Museum copy) has no pockets, and his mariner's cuffs are buttoned shut. In a testament to the changes a colorist can make, the Walpole version is painted blue on the inside, and the British Museum version is white, meaning that the British Museum's version is a lined jacket. Beneath the jacket and waistcoat is a pair of petticoat trousers/slops with a broad fall fly. His stockings are white, shoes have rounded toes, and he wears rectangular buckles.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Plate from "Thomas and Sally," 1770

Plate from 'Thomas and Sally or, the Sailor's Return. A musical entertainment in two acts and in verse,' author Isaac Bickerstaffe, artist unknown, 1770, Internet Archive.

Drawn from the script for the comic opera "Thomas and Sally," this is an unusual entry into the "sailor's return" trope. Most works in this vein have a happy reunion, and often involve the sailor displaying the wealth he has made on the sea. Instead, Thomas has returned from a long sea voyage to rescue Sally from the seductions of the evil squire. 

"Thomas and Sally" was a popular short opera, one that is commemorated in other works as well. You can hear the play in what I believe is its entirety here.

Jack threatens with the stick in his right hand, reaching back with his left. Atop his head is a reversed cocked hat over what appears to be a bob wig, and at his neck is a light neckcloth tucked into his single breasted waistcoat with its waist pockets. One of the interesting details of this piece is that the ends of the neckcloth poke out through an open buttonhole at his chest. His jacket is somewhat long, ending about mid-thigh. His trousers end well above the ankle, revealing his white stockings. Rounded toe shoes with oval buckles round out his slop clothes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chairing the Member, 1754-55

"Chairing the Member," William Hogarth, 1754-55, Wikimedia Commons.

© Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

"Chairing the Member," William Hogarth, 1754-55, Sir John Soane's Museum.

This chaotic scene is typical of the famous satirist Hogarth, and part of series "Humours of an Election." Scholars have spent much ink in analyzing the many, many layers of Hogarth's work, but we'll focus on the Jack in the center of the image, swinging a cudgel at some fellow who swings his own weapon in reply

Wikimedia Commons
© Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

The wooden legged sailor wears a light red cocked hat trimmed in a white tape, cocked over his right right with an orange cockade. It's a very unique hat, and I've yet to see its equal in any other period images of sailors. The nearest I've seen is the red hat worn by a salty tar at the center of John Collet's "A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant."

With the shine that Hogarth gives to the cocked hat of the tarpawlin at the center of his painting, it may be that these hats are painted, or perhaps treated leather. The red is bright and shows no sign of weathering on either figure, so it might be too much to presume that these are for weatherproofing. At that, two images out of the over 300 I've examined so far hardly indicates a widespread trend.

Our fighting sailor wears a white bob wig. His dotted neckcloth hangs down over the back of his blue jacket, which cuts off below the waist, and is triple vented. The cuff might not have a slash cut to them, but at this angle it is difficult to tell. His trouser legs end right at the bottom of the calf, rising high with his stride. Our sailor's one good leg is clad in a gray stocking and black shoe with a rectangular brass buckle.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant, 1767 and 1768

A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant, Butler Clowes after John Collet, 1768, British Museum.

A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant, Butler Clowes after John Collet, 1768, Walpole Library.

A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant, John Collet, 1767, Open Art Collection.

Clowes' print of Collet's painting was a popular one. Copies of these prints exist in the British Museum, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library, the Royal Collection Trust, and the Yale Center for British Art. The original painting was sold at auction in 1998, but I have yet to determine precisely where it is housed. A private collector may be in possession.

The May 1767 edition of Gentleman's Magazine thought well of a recent exhibition that included John Collet's works, specifically this painting and his "Recruiting Serjeant."
Mr Collet imitates the manner of Hogarth with great success; he has shewn a great deal of humour both in his recruiting serjeant and the Rescue, or the Tars triumphant; he is very much improved in his colouring, since the last exhibition. 
Collet's chaotic scene is one of sailors fighting off lawmen to rescue an attractive young woman and her retinue. On the ground is a man with a brand new concussion, reaching toward a warrant issued for "J. Seale." Presumably, J. Seale is the woman being lifted from the carriage by the wooden legged tar. I have not yet determined if J. Seale is an actual person, or simply a character invented for the scene. A portly constable points to his tipstaff, but is a rather inexperienced chap: out of his back pocket sticks an instructional pamphlet entitled "The Compleat Peace Officer."

Starting on the left, we begin with a sailor giving a kiss to a woman who feigns an insincere protest, while lifting the tarpawlin's watch. He wears a black cap and his hair is cut short. The neckcloth is patterned, but the exact pattern is difficult to make out. His double breasted blue jacket with white metal buttons and white piping ends below the waist and is made with flap pockets at the waist and open mariner's cuffs. Otherwise, he wears slops/petticoat trousers, white stockings, and pointed toe shoes with white metal rectangular buckles. In his right hand is a short stick.

Our next subject is a right salty tar! Wooden legged, scarred, and scowling, he clutches the woman while staring down what might be a constable or sheriff. He wears a red round hat (possibly treated leather) with wide brim, short hair or bob wig, and a blue neckcloth. His red jacket is trimmed in a light colored tape with white metal buttons, and waist pockets without buttons. There is a single vent in the back of his jacket. His waistcoat is almost the same length as the jacket or perhaps even longer. The front of the waistcoat is striped in red, and is backed in a plain brown fabric. Our jack wears slops and a blue stocking. The pointed toe shoe with a rectangular buckle at his foot steps on the wig of the fellow with the head wound.

Above the scene and cheering the fray is a jolly tar waving his plain black cocked hat. Though like his mates his hair is short, it looks like he's got a rather nasty case of hat hair. The neckcloth at his chest is white and striped in red. His brown jacket is double breasted and lined, with white buttons, and open mariner's cuffs. Beneath it is a red single breasted waistcoat, leading to his white trousers with thin blue stripes running vertically. White stockings lead into pointed toe shoes with rectangular white metal buckles.

The most aggressive sailor takes the portly officer by his collar. The sailor wears a particularly neat cocked hat, trimmed in thick tape of gold. It bears no cockade, but a large button and loop on the right side. A bob wig ends well above the collar, showing off the red neckcloth with white dots that he wears. The waistcoat is single breasted with horizontal red stripes. He wears a fairly nice blue jacket, trimmed in white, double breasted, with waist pocket and slash open cuffs, as well as white buttons. Behind his cudgel we see that, unlike his mates, he wears a pair of red breeches. His stockings are black, but we don't get a good view of his shoes or buckles.

At the far right we see another sailor actively involved in fighting off the watch. He wears a cocked hat trimmed in white tape, and a dark colored bob wig. His neckcloth is red and the jacket is trimmed like the others with has slash cuffs, though has no waist pockets. It appears that his jacket is double vented. Once more, he wears white stockings and slops.