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Background information

print showing a sailing ship on stormy water with fishing boats on the shore in the foreground

The Walker Art Gallery's copy of 'The Fishery'

Why 'Man of War in a Harbour' was acquired

Richard Wright was thought to have been born in Liverpool around 1720. He was a near contemporary and neighbour of Liverpool artists William Caddick and George Stubbs. In those early days of the port, the call for ship paintings would scarcely support a specialist maritime artist, prompting the aspiring Richard Wright to move to London by 1762. The major seaport and metropolitan surroundings provided greater opportunities in his chosen field, his subsequent success leading to his being known as 'Wright of Liverpool'; the first Liverpool artist to achieve a national reputation.

'Man of War in a Harbour', painted around 1767, is a good example of a painting from Richard Wright's best period of painting, and shows his proficiency at using light and creating an atmospheric painting. Prior to this acquisition, the Walker Art Gallery did not have any paintings by Richard Wright in its collection, except for a copy of 'The Fishery'. The importance of 'Man of War in a Harbour' was heightened by its many similarities to 'The Fishery'.

'The Fishery'

In 1764 Wright obtained the premium [prize] of the Society of Arts, Manufacters and Commerce for the best sea view for his painting entitled 'The Fishery'. Wright gained this award twice in the next three years.

At one time the painting in the Walker Art Gallery's collection was believed to be the original for Woollett's so called 'Fishery' engraving, but it is now recognised as being one of several versions, or even a copy from the print [1]|. The Richard Wright painting already in the Walker Art Gallery collection and Wright's first prize winning composition may be identified, from its figurehead, as HMS Neptune, depicted entering harbour [2]|. However, the highly detailed and technically accomplished composition became the subject of a popular print referred to as 'The Fishery'. This title subsequently came to embrace the original painting as well.

Engraved by Woollett, the print's title arises from a foreground detail in the painting showing beached boats and fishermen unloading and sorting their catch. Woollett embellishes Wright's foreground somewhat adding the label 'Fish Machine' on the rear of a specially constructed horse drawn 'land carriage'. The incidental 'fishery' allusion is thought to refer to the contemporary offer by the Society of Arts, Manufacters and Commerce of a separate prize for a successful commercial scheme for supplying the metropolis with fresh fish - a pressing problem at the time.

detail of a horse drawn cart labelled 'Fish machine' from the print

Detail of 'The Fishery' print

'Man of War in a Harbour'

The more recent acquisition 'Man of War in a Harbour' depicts the departure of a naval squadron and is another highly dramatic composition, possessing great similarities in composition, style and effective use of chiaroscuro. In common with the earlier painting, it also includes a foreground detail of fishermen unloading and sorting their catch. Complementing each other in so many respects, the main contrast is the perennial 'homeward and outward bound' theme.

painting of a large ship sailing out to sea with smaller vessels in foreground

Man of War in a Harbour' after treatment

The painting was initially bought from the artist for sixty guineas by Jervoise Clarke; it remained in his family until it was sold to another private collector in an auction in 1975. The Walker Art Gallery purchased the painting in 2006.

Footnotes

1. 'Merseyside, Painters, People and Places', Mary Bennett, Walker Art Gallery, 1978

2. 'Marine Art and Liverpool', ASDavidson, Waine Research, 1986