Samuel Atkins (c1765–1808)

Man of War in Full Sail

Watercolour, 41/4 x 61/2 in (11 x 16.5 cm), Signed.

This watercolour shows how effective the 18th century conventions were for the depiction of rough seas, prior to the Girtin/Francia revolution, even on a small scale. Atkins’ mastery of the medium is remarkable. Both sea and sky are in movement, as are the vessels themselves: the frigate in the centre is beating into a gale, with shortened sail down to the mainsail, whilst the vessel on the left, completing the manoeuvre, is canting over at an even more alarming angle. Atkins knows exactly how to deploy depth of washes for maximum impact, leaving the white of the paper in reserve for the sail in the centre – in itself an effective compositional device.