The RUSI Library has recently found additional hidden treasures within its collection. A rare print, commemorating four victories of note won by the Royal Navy, represents a unique collaboration between artists, engravers and publishers.
Commemoration of the four great naval victories won by the Royal Navy during the late war
London: Printed for R. Bowyer at the Historic Gallery, Pall Mall; by T. Bensley, Bolt Court, Fleet Street.
This vast volume, measuring 87cms by 59cms has only 14 pages but four of these enormous leaves feature stunning emblematical engravings of the Admirals and Captains who took part in a series of conflicts which were integral to Britain's success in the 18th century. Earl Howe's victory of the French off Ushant, June 1, 1794; Earl St. Vincent's victory over the Spanish, off Cape St. Vincent, February 14, 1797; Lord Viscount Duncan's victory over the Dutch, off Camperdown, October 11, 1797 and Lord Viscount Nelson's victory over the French, in the Bay of Aboukir, August 1, 1798.
This magnificent volume is scarce, being recorded in only two other UK repositories, the National Art Library at Victoria & Albert Museum and at the National Maritime Museum. Each of the four designs represents a collaborative effort between some of the most pre-eminent artists, engravers and publishers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
For example, in the engraving 'Commemoration of the XIth October MDCCXCVII' the following contributors are noted at the bottom: 'The portraits engraved by Geo Noble from the Original Miniatures by John Smart Esq.', London Pub. by R. Bowyer and John Edwards F.S.A. Historic Gallery Pall Mall 1803.' In the engraving 'Commemoration of the XIVth February MDCCXCVII, R.A. Smirke is the artist, whilst the engraving was crafted by I Parker and the portraits were separately engraved by Worthington. These engravings were brought together, for example, by Bowyer as the publisher and Smirke the artist.
Bowyer received professional training early in his career as a painter of miniatures but became involved in publishing at the Historic Gallery on Pall Mall which produced a number of publications in this style. Smirke had a prolific and successful output and his style was 'notable for its flowing, refined drawing, and his use of characterisation is typically expressive'. Such was the success of his work that he was exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1786-1813. Throughout his career Smirke produced a number of illustrations for literary and historical publications, including for Bowyer, as our example demonstrates.
The physical size of this publication is not its sole unique quality. The collaboration between so many artists, engravers and the publisher is remarkable. What's more, each of these engravings is marked 'PROOF', adding to this item's interesting and unusual provenance.
The RUSI copy was donated to the Library by Revd. Donald MacKinnon and had originally been part of his grandfather's collection, Thomas Robert 4th Baron of Dimsdale. Whilst our copy is lacking its original binding and has some damage to the outer edges of the pages, the engravings have survived well, and it remains a spectacular object in its own right.
Deborah Graham-Vernon, 'Bowyer, Robert (1758-1834)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3091, accessed 29 Nov 2012]
Tina Fiske, 'Smirke, Robert (1753-1845)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25762, accessed 29 Nov 2012]