Maritime tales - ships on canvas

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I, Stephen Guy, have always admired the skills of marine artists – not just their artistic techniques but their observational abilities.

Leading marine artist Samuel Walters (1811-1882) was the son of Miles Walters, who was a shipwright and seafarer as well as a recognised painter of maritime subjects. Samuel was born at sea and became one of the brightest lights in the Liverpool school of marine art and his work continues to be much admired and sought after. Trained at the Liverpool Academy, Samuel shone in all aspects of marine painting but was most skilful in ship portraiture. He had a studio in London for two years but decided to return to Liverpool – rapidly becoming the Second City of the British Empire – to further his career.

Oil painting of a sailing ship

The Ethiope by Samuel Walters

Merseyside Maritime Museum has several Samuel Walters paintings in its collections and here we focus on his remarkable painting of the paddle steamer Ethiope. She is pictured off the west African coast with palm trees on the shoreline – a subtle reference to her main cargo, palm oil. Ethiope was built in Liverpool in 1838 for the merchant Robert Jamieson. He was keen to trade with palm oil producers in inland areas rather than deal with middle men on the coast.  Palm oil was used as an engine lubricant and as an ingredient for soap. Ethiope spent two long periods in west Africa exploring the Niger and Cross rivers. Jamieson wrote: “Commerce on the Niger can only be followed by means of steam vessels manned entirely by native Africans under the direction of European officers and engineers well inured to the climate.” Several black seamen can be seen on board in the painting.

Other Samuel Walters paintings in our collection include the Sailing Ship Emma at Sudley House, the No 6 Pilot Sloop Irlam at the Maritime, the No 3 Pilot Schooner The Duke also at the Maritime, and CSS Florida.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries a marine artist charged between three and 10 guineas (£3.15 and £10.50) for his framed paintings – equivalent to between roughly £340 and £1,135 today. These were the prices quoted by Henry Collins (1782-1824), who worked in Whitehaven, Cumbria, in an advertisement in the local paper. However, Collins was not a full-time painter – he also ran a business supplying interior furnishings. His study of the snow Betty shows a type of brig, a two-masted vessel with square sails that were very common around this time. She is shown off the Cumbrian port of Harrington with sails unfurled and flags flying.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.