H. Rolfe 
H.M.S. Revenue Cutter VIGILANT Towing a Captured Barque
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English (fl.1822-1845)

Oil on Canvas Circa 1828
24? x 35? Inches 32½ x 44 Inches Framed
Signed LL: H. Rolfe  
   

H. Rolfe 
 
English (fl.1822-1845)
 
H.M.S. Revenue Cutter VIGILANT Towing a Captured Barque
⚈ Sold

Oil on Canvas Circa 1828
24? x 35? Inches 32½ x 44 Inches Framed
Signed LL: H. Rolfe  
   

Home to a significant number of smugglers, the southeast of England has seemingly forever been the primary location for the entry of illicit contraband and untaxed goods into England. Against such actions, the Nautical Watch of the British Revenue Cutters and port-stationed Customs Agents would attempt to hold the line and the country’s tax base. One successful venture is portrayed on the canvas by Rolfe, a Margate artist of some note, having painted several portraits of the Revenue Ships in action. He is not to be confused with British artist Henry Leonides Rolfe, who would go on to paint primarily fish-inspired still-life works. It has been recorded more than once that Rolfe was a sailing captain with the Revenue Service, and all of his known works depict these subjects.

The wood-barrel torpedo buoy clearly sets the location, with its prominent markings and the caged whale-oil lamp atop its staff. More telling of the subject matter, Thomas G. Dutton produced a lithographic print of the painting almost 20 years after the event from the original by Rolfe. This print clearly states that this is His Majesty’s Revenue Cutter VIGILANT, Towing the Barque ALFRED of London, after the latter was captured with “1010 half ankers of contraband spirits concealed under a coasting cargo”. A half-anker is roughly 4 gallons!

The talent of Rolfe as an artist is remarkable, in noting that he has artistically matched the setting, atmosphere and his subject ships in a highly proficient and pleasing manner. Light breaks through in subtle doses, shadows are smooth and consistent, and his nautical action is 100 percent correct. Upon the rolling green of the waters of the Kent Coast, this is an important historic look at a timeless nautical action. Today, still, a new H.M.S. VIGILANT patrols the channel against smuggling.


A 1845 lithograph of this painting exists in the Macpherson Collection, whichbegan the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich’s Print & Drawing Archives