Launching at Deptford

Launching at Deptford

ca. 1757
John Cleveley the elder
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 41 3/4 × 72 1/8 inches (106 × 183.2 cm)

This painting depicts the launch of one of the many great warships built at the Royal Dockyard at Deptford. The ship being launched from the double dock, to the left of the Great Storehouse that occupies the center of the composition, has not been identified. In the docks to the right of the Great Storehouse are vessels in various stages of construction. John Cleveley’s picture emphasizes the presence of spectators, male and female, who watch from the quay, from the windows of the Great Storehouse, from the house of the Master Shipwright to the left of the ship being launched, and even from the stern galleries of the ship itself. Henry Fielding identified the attraction of such scenes in 1750: “the yards of Deptford and of Woolwich are noble sights: and give us a just idea of the great perfection to which we are arrived in building those floating castles.” Cleveley and his two sons were among the several marine painters who had experience working in dockyards prior to or concomitant with careers as marine painters. 

B1981.25.108
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection