Offered by Ars Antiqua
Old Master Painting
James Wilson Carmichael (1800-1868)
Trireme at the port of an acropolis with parade
Oil on canvas, 61 x 104 cm
Signed and dated lower right "J.W.Carmichael / 1862"
Christie's stamp on the reverse
Carmichael was born near Newcastle on 9 June 1800. His father worked as a carpenter specializing in shipbuilding and passed on his passion for the sea to his son. Still young, James Wilson spent three years aboard a ship sailing between the ports of the Iberian peninsula. On his return to Britain, after an apprenticeship in shipbuilding, he decided to pursue art. On several occasions he exhibited oil and watercolor paintings at the Royal Academy. In 1845 he moved to London, where he was already known as an accomplished marine painter. In 1855, during the Crimean War he was sent to the Baltic to make drawings for The Illustrated London News. Between the sixth and seventh decades of the century he published two writings on the art of marine painting. He died in Scarborough in 1868. The National Maritime Museum in London today preserves several works by the painter, including four large-format oils on canvas.
In the painting in question, Carmichael depicts a typical warship of the ancient Greeks, the trireme, while sailing towards a port, at the foot of an acropolis full of temples and other monumental buildings. On land, a crowd of people awaits the fighters, who return victorious from a war, with lit braziers, smoking incense, in thanksgiving to the Olympic gods. The painter's Greece is a land of dreams, exactly as the English of the first half of the 19th century imagined it, fascinated by ancient ruins and Mediterranean landscapes. A land that had recently recovered from the centuries-old setback imposed on it by the Ottoman Turks, also thanks to the commitment of valiant English men, above all Lord Byron, for whom Greek independence meant the rebirth of the ancient classical civilization, with its ideal of beauty, which within a few years would greatly fascinate the painters of the Victorian era. However, in Carmichael's painting there is also the expression of that feeling of the sublime, which the romantic artists traced precisely in the marine views, where the water, the currents and the high waves leave the observer amazed, driven to reflect on the immanent power of nature and to dream of authentic and absolute freedom. The early morning light covers the waters, the wood of the boat and the mainland with a golden patina, where rosy reflections fill the temples, towers and other buildings neatly arranged on the slope with a timeless charm.
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