Bid for the dramatic Cork Harbour painting that’s stopping traffic in Skibbereen
There is a social distancing problem in Skibbereen. Not that anyone is breaking the rules. It’s the painting in Morgan O’Driscoll’s showroom window that stops the traffic. To be fair, it’s madness: a massive Victorian seascape with a gripping narrative.
Entrance to the port of Cork (1874-5) by Richard Brydges Beechey (lot 82: approx. € 30,000 to € 50,000) is included in Morgan O’Driscoll’s online auction of Irish and international art, which takes place on Monday, April 19, between 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Clock ends.
The painting shows two sailing ships at the entrance to the port of Cork. A two-masted brigantine, probably a cargo ship, crashes through a turbulent sea. Even the uninitiated can tell she is in trouble. But help is on the way.
A small lugger, a Cork pilot ship with a crew of five, runs to the rescue. But will they be there in time? It looks almost impossible. There is a sense of life in danger and this is what drives the painting into the better than Netflix category.
Surf breaks on the rocks. Dark clouds are gathering in the background while the lighthouse at Roche’s Point is bathed in a ray of light. The weather is changing. Admire the painting from the Skibbereen Walk long enough, and an informed bystander will tell you that Roche’s Point is notorious for it.
The winds whip around the harbor mouth and drive ships onto the rocks. The most famous of these was that Celtic, a massive White Star liner that ran aground in 1928 and whose luxury furnishings still grace homes along this part of the coast.
Richard Brydges Beechey (1808-1895) was a naval officer. Born in London, both parents were artists and he enrolled as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, at the age of 13. Art was part of his training.
“He had a great life,” says Peter Murray, art historian. When he was 17, Beechey joined HMS Blossom as a midshipman under his older brother, hydrographer Captain Frederick William Beechey. They spent three years in the Pacific, Richard painting all the time, and ended up on Pitcairn Island, where he painted a portrait of John Adams, the last surviving mutineer HMS Bounty.
Then the ship headed north into the Arctic and attempted to meet Franklin’s second expedition, which moved northwest around Canada, but failed. Richard Beechey continued to serve in the Mediterranean but was eventually expelled from the Navy. Maybe it was all a little too much for him.
In search of a quieter life, he moved to Ireland, where he worked on the Admiralty Survey and detailed mapping of the coasts and the Shannon. “He was an assistant to Commander James Wolfe. They had a small steamboat and were walking up and down the coast to map it and make it safer for seafarers, ”says Murray. “The charts are brilliant – little works of art. They were done on site – not in the studio. ”
Given the dangers they encountered, Wolfe’s report, “The Lack of Lights, Buoys, and Beacons on the Irish Coast” (1846) led to the construction of new lighthouses at Sybil Head and elsewhere.
During this time and afterwards, Beechey painted and exhibited scenes of ships in Irish seas. This begs the question: Could there be hidden paintings of Richard Brydges Beechey in Irish attics or on the walls of houses across the country? “Without a doubt,” says Murray. “He was productive. But he was a Royal Navy man and at some point in history his work was overlooked. “
The nationalist art-historical narrative had no place for Beechey and thus missed the point. Beechey painted ships in Irish waters – other artists could, yes, but he had a trained and specific understanding of the coast.
The actual incident depicted in the painting may or may not have happened, but the landscape or the sea are not fictional.
Beechey knew how ships worked under pressure, but he also knew the dangers of this particular area above and below the surface of the water. This deep local knowledge distinguishes his work.