CHORIS, Louis (1795-1828). Unpublished Original Watercolour Drawing of "Plymouth" Harbour, England. [ca 1817].

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Single sheet, mounted by the artist on brown paper board surrounded by a border of black ink (image size: 10 x 17 inches; framed 23 x 29 4/8 inches). A fine watercolour drawing of the port of Plymouth in England, captioned by Choris on the mount.


A fine original unpublished watercolour drawing of Plymouth Harbour in England, probably painted on the artist's return to Europe on the return leg of Kotzebue's voyage in the Rurik to the Pacific, 1815-1818. "A young man by the name of Choris…offered himself as painter to the expedition. The richness of the portfolio which he has brought home, of which but a few specimens could be given to the public, and the praise which has been bestowed upon him by the most celebrated artists of St. Petersburg, as well as by the president of the Petersburg Academy, fully justify the choice of this young and deserving artist" (Ivan Fedorovitch Krusenstern, Introduction to the English edition "A Voyage of Discovery: Into the South Sea and Beering's Straits, for the Purpose of Exploring a North-east Passage, Undertaken in the Years 1815-1818"). 

Choris' manuscript text of the voyage was never published, but his albums of hand-coloured lithographs: "Voyage Pittoresque Autour de Monde, avec des portraits de sauvages d'Amérique, d'Asie, d'Afrique, et des iles du Grand Ocean; des Paysages, des Vues Maritimes, et plusieurs objets d'histoire naturelle; Accompagné de Descriptions par M. le Baron Cuvier,..." and  "Vues et Paysages des Régions Équinoxiales, recueillis dans un voyage autour du monde, avec une introduction et un texte explicatif", published in 1822 and 1826 are highly prized for their beauty and their historical record.

This particular view of Plymouth Harbour, in Devon England, which was not published in either volume, or subsequently, shows this ancient port and town, arguably one of the most important naval and trading ports in European history, and in the history of the discovery and subsequent settlement of the New World, and surrounding countryside in great detail. The view is taken from on board ship in the English Channel, and shows the fortifications of the Royal Citadel to the left, a dramatic 17th-century fortress, built to defend the coastline from the Dutch, and still in use today, the harbour wall protecting the inner harbour, and small sailboats within and without. A covered barge powered by eight oarsmen is in the foreground.

Plymouth's reputation as both a centre for voyage and discovery, and for its military importance begins with the transatlantic trade that "originated with William Hawkins in 1528. His son John laid the foundations of an organised naval force. In 1572 Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman to sail into the Pacific, and in 1577 he embarked on the first ever circumnavigation of the globe. Back in Plymouth, Drake masterminded the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. According to popular legend, he played bowls on Plymouth Hoe as the Armada sailed up the Channel. Drake was responsible also for the establishment of England's first colony, at Roanoke in Virginia, an act that may be regarded as the origins of the British Empire.

"Perhaps the most celebrated expedition to leave Plymouth was that of the Pilgrims. Persecuted for their puritan beliefs in eastern England, they set sail for the New World on board the Mayflower in 1620. After spending a few weeks in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, they eventually landed in Plymouth Harbor and helped to establish a new Plymouth community.

"Further explorations that left from Plymouth included three voyages to the southern ocean and the Pacific made by James Cook, the first in 1768. He was the first explorer to set foot on what are now the Hawaiian Islands, where he died in 1779. In 1831 Charles Darwin left Plymouth for the Galapagos Islands, where he formulated his revolutionary theories of natural selection and the Origins of Species. More recently, in 1967 Sir Francis Chichester started and finished at Plymouth the first ever solo circumnavigation of the globe on board his yacht Gypsy Moth IV.

"Plymouth's military expansion began in earnest in 1670 when a citadel was built on the highest point above the town, the Hoe, meaning high ground. In 1690 the first Royal Dockyard opened on the banks of the Tamar west of Plymouth. Further docks were built in 1727, 1762 and 1793, and a huge naval complex was later established, including the communities of Plymouth Dock and Stonehouse. The Navy's role during war against Napoleon's France was pivotal, and in 1812 a mile-long breakwater was laid to protect the fleet.

"Throughout the nineteenth century the population and physical size of the towns increased dramatically. In 1824 Plymouth Dock was renamed Devonport, and in 1914 the three towns of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse were united as the Borough of Plymouth. In 1928 Plymouth was granted City status, and the first Lord Mayor was appointed in 1935" (Plymouth city council online). 

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