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Robert Salmon. The Ship Liverpool in the Mercey, seen from Wallasey. 1810.

Robert Salmon. The Ship Liverpool in the Mercey, seen from Wallasey. 1810.

Regular price $ 90,000.00 USD
Regular price Sale price $ 90,000.00 USD
Sale Sold out

Robert Salmon (Scottish American, 1775-1848)

The Ship Liverpool in the Mercey, seen from Wallasey

Oil on canvas


Signed with initials and dated lower right: “RS 1810”

31 ¼” x 42 ¼” canvas, 37” x 47 ¾” framed

Auction history: Phillips London, 19th Century British and European Paintings sale, 3 April 2001, Lot 26, sold for $40,149

Christie’s New York, Maritime sale, 3 February 2005, lot 199, sold for $132,000

Like a number of both Salmon's British and American subjects, The Ship Liverpool in the Mercey, seen from Wallasey, offers a fascinating combination of genre and cityscape as well as a marine view. In the foreground, center, a few men appear to be lowering the mast on a small vessel and walking on to the beach, while a larger Dutch ship, identified by the flag, is at the right, and in the middle distance is a British ship in full sail in the harbor. Unusual for the artist, Salmon identifies the vessel as the "Liverpool," its name delineated across its stern. This was a six-year old ship built in Philadelphia, and voyaging between that city and Liverpool. In the distance is the shoreline of Liverpool, then nearing by 1810, a population of 100,000. Salmon endows his picture with the accuracy of the identifiable buildings in the distance, along with the vigorousness of the lapping waves, the strong gray cloud formations contrasting with the bright blue sky, and the billowing sails of the British ship.

Wallasey, from which Salmon has chosen to paint, is situated at the northeastern corner of the Wirral peninsula. It had been sparsely populated until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and had been known as a base for smuggling. But about the time this work was painted, Liverpool merchants and ship captains were just beginning to build homes in the area. Meanwhile, it was an ideal spot from which to survey the mouth of the Mersey River, with the ships for fishing, commerce, and naval activities, along with the panoramic shoreline of Liverpool beyond. Salmon's accuracy in delineation is not confined to his intimate knowledge of ship construction and rigging. His panorama of the distant port of Liverpool is amazingly accurate. On the left of Liverpool is seen the Townsend windmill, its arms turned to face the southerly wind. The dome on the skyline to the right of the ship is that of St. Paul's; then that of the Town Hall, followed by the spire of St. George's. Just to the left of the ferry's mizzen mast is the spire of St. Nicholas (the spire collapsed in 1810, the year of the painting; its replacement in 1814 having a more sophisticated "lantern" design)..


The Ship Liverpool in the Mercey, seen from Wallasey would seem to be one of Salmon's most admired and successful paintings. It would appear that he painted the subject at least three times, with only slight variations. The earliest was painted in 1801 (sold at Christie's on December 3, 1908) with the ships having different flag identifications, the figural arrangements are slightly different, and Salmon displays a less exacting rendition of the Liverpool skyline. This also belies Salmon's own statement that he painted his first work only in 1806, since, in fact, other pictures created in the first years of the century are also known; Salmon's earliest dated painting was created in 1800 and he began exhibiting his work in 1802.. On the 21st of March, 2002, a much later version, painted in 1825 was sold at Phillip, de Pury and Company, with very different ships-one flying the Swedish flag, and the water painted closer to the scallop-like waves which were regularly used once Salmon settled in Boston three years later. And the basic format of this painting reappears in one of his last Boston pictures, Liverpool, Mercy River, painted in 1840, in the collection of the Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, though there is far more traffic on the Mersey River, and the primary ship (British) is seen port side, parallel to the picture plane.

Robert Salmon was both an exceptionally fine artist and one of historical significance in the history of American art. He was only the second professional marine specialist to work in the United States-Thomas Birch, in Philadelphia, preceded him-and the first in New England. Thus, Salmon represents the beginning of a vital artistic tradition which would include Fitz Henry Lane at mid-century, and Winslow Homer in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Like Birch, Salmon was born in England, but unlike the former, whose father, William, was a noted artist in his native land, Thomas Birch developed his art in the new American republic. Salmon was a well-established marine painter in both England and Scotland before he immigrated to the United States in 1828. Thus, he was very much a part of the impressive tradition of marine painting in Great Britain that began as early as 1673 when both Willem Van de Veldes, Senior and Junior, brought the Dutch artistic naval tradition from The Netherlands to England. British and foreign-born artists worked and were well-patronized in Great Britain in the eighteenth century, including such painters as Peter Monamy, Samuel Scott, Nicholas Pocock, Thomas Luny, and Domenic Serres. These artists specialized primarily in two forms of marine art: naval battles and ship portraiture.

This tradition continued in Great Britain well into the nineteenth century, inaugurated by Salmon. Unlike those artists, however, Salmon's oeuvre was quite varied. He remains categorized as a "marine artist," for ships and water figure in almost all of his paintings. But, while much of his attention was given to ship portraiture, he essayed many other aspects of marine painting-storms at sea, shipwrecks, fleet regattas, and other subjects such as landscapes, usually with a distant view of the sea. Unlike many of the British artists, and also unlike Birch, Salmon was only seldom given to paint naval battles, though he listed as his earliest picture a now-lost Battle of Trafalgar, painted in 1806, and immediately after his arrival in the United States he painted and then exhibited, between 1828 and 1830, a series of large, fifteen-foot paintings of the 1816 bombardment of Algiers by an Anglo-Dutch fleet, probably based upon a panorama which he had seen when it had circulated in Great Britain. A further influence upon the nature of Salmon's artistry-shared with the earlier Samuel Scott-was the tight and meticulous strategies of the great Italian artist, Antonio Canaletto, much admired and collected in England, who spent a decade there beginning in 1746. And like Canaletto, though transformed into his own very personal style, Salmon was especially a painter of ports and harbors, fascinated both by the activities he found there, and by the distinctive layout and buildings, distinguishing between each of these cities and towns he depicted.

Salmon was born in the port city of Whitehaven in Cumberland, England, and was inspired to his specialty by the environment in which he grew up. Much of his career in Great Britain was spent there and in Liverpool. In 1811 he travelled to work in the ship-building town of Greenock on the west coast of Scotland, moving between there and Liverpool; he was, therefore, both an English and Scottish painter. In 1827 he traveled extensively—he was in London, on the southern coast in Southampton, and then up in the far northwestern city of North Shields at the mouth of the Tyne River, near Newcastle. He left North Shields in May of 1828, and the following month departed on the packet ship, New York from Liverpool, the major port of embarkation for the United States. Arriving in New York, Salmon immediately departed for Boston and appears to have abandoned the more peripatetic life he had led in Great Britain. He was a prolific artist of scenes and subjects similar to those he had painted in his native land. Furthermore, while the majority of his pictures painted in Boston are recognizable American subjects, he also continued to paint or perhaps replicate his British ones--his Shields, England, in the collection of the United States Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, was painted around 1833---- suggesting an appreciation and demand for foreign subjects among his New England clientele. By 1840, it appears that his eyesight had begun to fail and he is thought to have returned to England, but large panoramas of Palermo and Venice are known from 1845 (Fundacion Coleccion, Thyssen-Bornermizsa, Madrid), which exhibit no diminishing of abilities and are, perhaps, even closer to the aesthetics of Canaletto. Otherwise his final years and his date of death remain unknown.


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