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This large painting is believed to depict the 'Winchelsea' and other Indiamen at sea. The ships are named at the base of the canvas as the 'Ceres', 'Lowther Castle', 'Glatton', 'Winchelsea' (in the centre), 'Marquis of Ely', 'Princess Amelia', and 'Castle Huntley'. There are problems concerning the dating of the vessels. The seven ships were never in the China Seas at the same time and the only moment when all were together was between February and August 1814. 'Ceres', 'Marquis of Ely', 'Princess Amelia' and 'Lowther Castle' were part of a returning convoy from the east, reaching their mooring on 9-10 August, and 'Winchelsea', 'Glatton' and 'Castle Huntley' were members of an outgoing convoy that departed on 22 February 1814.
The subject of Indiamen in the East was a familiar one to Huggins who had probably begun his working life at sea and served in the East India Company as a steward and assistant purser on board the 'Perseverance', which sailed for Bombay and China in December 1812, returning in August 1814. He had established himself as a marine painter by 1817, close to the London headquarters of the Company in Leadenhall Street, where he worked for the rest of his life. Specializing in ship's portraits, he was prolific and popular, largely though the lithographs made by his assistant Edward Duncan, who was also his son-in-law from 1834. In 1830 Huggins became marine painter to the 'Sailor king' William IV, who had been a naval officer and according to Samuel Redgrave 'esteemed his work rather for its correctness than its art'. The painting was exhibited with a diploma at the Naval Exhibition in Chelsea, 1891 (no. 731). It is signed 'W. J. Huggins and E. Duncan, Sept 18th', the exact date being illegible. Duncan married Huggins's daughter, Berthia, and he collaborated with his father-in-law on pictures. For this image it is generally accepted that Duncan painted the water and Huggins the ships.
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East Indiamen in the China Seas | William John Huggins | 1820
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