Whitehaven is a small town and port on the coast of Cumbria, England 70 miles North of Liverpool. Historically a part of Cumberland, it has a manmade harbor which partially dries out at low water due to its exposure to the prevailing westerly winds.
This animated scene likely depicts the sinking of the British ship ACTIVE which sank in strong winds just off Whitehaven Beach on November 25, 1826, after completing a voyage from Dublin. ACTIVE was one of two vessels lost at Whitehaven on the same day. Citizen volunteers of the Whitehaven Surf Lifesaving Service are shown launching a rescue boat to aid the desperate crewmen seen clinging to the rigging of the foundering ship. Two other vessels are shown careened on the beach as was common during low water. Whitehaven Quay, and the uncompleted West Pier lighthouse are prominent details in the background. The seawalls and piers at Whitehaven, protecting the inner harbor, were developed over a considerable span of time. The masts of vessels berthed in the inner harbor are detailed prominently behind the West Pier lighthouse.
Although mostly associated with Liverpool and Boston, Robert Salmon was born in Whitehaven in 1775. In 1802, the first painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy was of Whitehaven harbor. The range of Salmon's compositions extends well beyond those of his contemporaries. His skillful use of light and shade adds interest and perspective to the subject. Salmon's characteristic luminosity and depth of field highlights his outstanding attention to detail.
Salmon's paintings are notable for their subtle lighting in sea and sky. The threatening atmosphere in this view shows a dramatic cloud formation that aptly illustrates the drama and ever present perils of the rugged English coast. The wind whipped sea is receding from the shore, the tidal forces creating violent wave action in direct opposition to the prevailing wind. Such detail is typical of Robert Salmon's obsession with accurately portraying weather conditions in all of his paintings.
This work illustrates an air of sophistication evocative of the most skilled examples Robert Salmon's celebrated career.
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