A historically significant 1696 dated work, this drawing accented with watercolor-painted flags and actual gold highlights on the hull of the two-position views of the Royal British Yacht WILLIAM & MARY, is one of three known surviving works by English artist Thomas Baston. The other two exist in the permanent collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In 1723, printmaker Thomas Bowles produced a series of 22 prints of “Capital Ships of His Majesty’s Royal Navy”, from the works of Baston. While the Museum’s works are part of that series, this is a solitary original.
Baston’s works are in each case inclusive of detailed written information regarding the subjects shown, and in the case of the Royal Yacht WILLIAM & MARY, it is personalized with the following upper lefthand dedication: “To Ye Honorble Sir Robert, Rich, Bar.t One of ye LORDS Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High ADMIRAL of England, Ireland, sce.” This is complemented with the upper righthand inscription “His Majesty Yacht The WILLIAM & MARY Built at Chatham by Mr. Lee 10th, Sept.r 1694”. Baston’s signature and date are diminutive in the lower right, and a descendent of Sir Rich, Charles Rich of Shields, has signed a 1908 statement verso pertaining to his ancestors important roles with the Admiralty and the rising power of Parliament over the British Monarchy.
The yacht was expressly ordered and built for William III, and his wife Mary. The royal couple inherited 14 royal yachts when they came to the throne in 1688, but in February of 1693 it was decided to order a new principle yacht. The namesake WILLIAM & MARY Launched in Sept. 1694, a ketch-rigged beauty of 77 feet in length with a 22 foot beam. She mounted 8 3-pounders. With Mary’s passing at 32 just months later, William made numerous sailings back to his native Holland, until his passing in 1702. Their royal yacht would live on, repaired in 1737, 1746 and a major rebuild in 1765, enabling it to sail on until finally scrapped in 1801.
The drawing includes extra details, with a headland battlement, a contingent of marines rowing a boat, people walking in the foreground shallows, and other ships at sea. The yacht’s crew are aloft in the rigging, and the flags all react properly to the prevailing breeze, helping create subtle motion to the overall scene. It’s worth taking note of the quality of the calligraphy and written script, and the way the lead capitals form encompassing ovals for the rest of the text, harkening back to the style of the illuminated pages and the earliest writings of Britain. This is a fine art work of unique historic context and provenance.
Provenance: Sir Robert Rich, Knighted 42nd Baronet of Ross Hall, Beccles, Suffolk;
His Great Grandson, Charles Rich of Shields.
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