A painting by an unknown artist reveals an intriguing story of a shipwreck which inspired poetry and the pride of the nation.
Since 2006 a painting called 'The Foudroyant' has been on loan to Nymans from the Messel family. Recently the painting was returned to the family and removing it from it's temporary hanging space gave us an opportunity to take a closer look and find out more about the story behind it.
Although the artist's name is unknown we can guess at some of the backstory based on the title of the painting and some careful observation.
The important thing is to understand the distinction between The Foudroyant and HMS Foudroyant. The Foudroyant was an 80-gun ship in the French navy during the 18th century that was captured by three English vessels, Monmouth, Hampton Court, and Swiftsure. The Foudroyant was officially commissioned into the English Navy shortly after, but was eventually broken up and sold off.
Nine years later Lord Nelson commissioned an 80-gun ship for the English Navy using the same designs, and christened her HMS Foudoryant in honour of her predecessor. From 1799 to 1801 she would serve as his flagship, and then was decommissioned for use as a dock guard, a training ship, and finally as a seaside attraction.
Closer inspection of the painting shows there is a structure on the left side that looks remarkably like Blackpool North Pier. The ship is clearly caught in storm waters and the crew are seen rowing away from the imminent wreck. Therefore, the wreck at Blackpool might be the moment that the unknown artist decided to capture in paint.
After the wreck there was no way to save HMS Foudroyant from the German shipbreakers and she was sold for a small percentage of her worth. We were sorry to see “The Foudroyant” go, but it did give us the opportunity to find out a little more about the rich and interesting history that may have inspired the painting after all.
" Go barter to the knacker's yard the steed that has outlived its time! ...Take heed! And bring us back once more our Nelson's ship. "