The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar

Step into John Singleton Copley's epic work

By Guildhall Art Gallery & London's Roman Amphitheatre

Defeat of the Floating Batteries of Gibraltar by John Singleton CopleyGuildhall Art Gallery & London's Roman Amphitheatre

John Singleton Copley was commissioned in 1783 to depict the victory of the Great Siege of Gibraltar.

Copley intended to show the action from the land looking out to sea, with the Relief Fleet in the distance.

He researched meticulously, basing the composition on eyewitness accounts, preliminary drawings, maps of Gibraltar and models of ships and rigging.

In 1787 he invited some of the military officers who had taken part to come and see the picture, and they were unanimous in their disapproval.

Copley had concentrated on the dramatic rescue and the burning ships, and the sea made it look like a naval victory rather than a military one.

They pressed him to change the composition and to introduce recognisable portraits of the Garrison officers.

Copley therefore changed the composition to introduce a prominent group of officers overlooking the action in the harbour.

He replaced the sea in the background with a distant view of the Spanish lines, subcontracting a seperate painting of the Relief Fleet to the marine artist Dominic Serres.

In 1791 the picture was finished. Copley had spent eight years on it rather than the two he had originally estimated.

Credits: All media
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