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The Battle of the Nile: Destruction of 'L'Orient', 1 August 1798. An unfinished painting of the Battle of the Nile. Nelson's decisive victory over the French off the coast of Egypt led to the disintegration of Napoleon's army by isolating it there. It secured British control of the Mediterranean and ensured the retaking of Malta from the French.
The ships in the painting are based on models of the actual ships. To the right is a close-up of the port-side bow (from port-quarter view) of the French 'La Spartiate', 70 guns. Its mainmast split and broke forcefully, sending the sailors in the rigging crashing down over the side and they are depicted clinging to, or falling off, the mast. Other sailors pull their comrades back aboard. In the right foreground, under the broken mast, a sailor is dragged into a boat containing an apparently dead French officer supported by two sailors. In the left foreground, is the bow of a boat full of sailors, with a lieutenant pointing towards the stricken ship. A sailor pulls another out of the water and, behind, another lieutenant shouts orders through a speaking trumpet. Beyond, three French sailors have been sketched, precariously balancing on a piece of wreckage. Beyond that, to the left, is the starboard-side beakhead of another ship, her bowsprit shot away. Under her bow, sailors cling to a mast and a yard. Here the canvas is bare, covered only with lightly sketched figures.
The ship in the background to the left is possibly the British 'Alexander', 74 guns. Her sails billow from the explosion of the French flagship, 'L'Orient', 120 guns, in the left centre background, in port-quarter view. A boat rows away on her left. The artist has captured the chaotic confusion of battle, focusing particularly on the sailors' plight. The British officers demonstrate humanity as they rescue the defeated enemy. The central subject of this painting is the explosion of 'L'Orient', yet this unfinished picture presents the human cost of the battle as the main focus of the painting. The artist was an American-born painter who worked in England. Initially he was a free student of Benjamin West and was then admitted as a student to the Royal Academy in January 1782, where he showed 80 paintings altogether. Despite his phenomenal early success, Brown fell on hard times and was disinherited by his father. He then concentrated on creating large, unsaleable religious and historical subjects. In 1809, Brown left London to live and work in Bath, Bristol and Lancashire. He returned to London in 1824 and died there in poverty, in a room crowded with unsold paintings. The painting has been signed by the artist.
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The Destruction of 'L'Orient' at the Battle of the Nile | Mather Brown | 1825
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