The Frigate 'Surprise' at Anchor off Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

The Frigate 'Surprise' at Anchor off Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

ca. 1775
Francis Holman
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 30 x 57 inches (76.2 x 144.8 cm)

This coastal view is an example of Francis Holman’s common formula for large works: a panoramic scene in wide rectangular format, with the horizon set no more than a third of the way from the bottom. Above, protruding into an expansive sky, are not only ships’ masts but also the salient features of the often quite distant coast, such as the Yarmouth church spires here, much as navigators would have first seen them when approaching land.

The frigate Surprise was of twenty-eight guns and launched at Woolwich in 1774. Its topsails are half lowered and look all aback (pressed backward by a light headwind). The ship is presumably held in position by its starboard bower anchor, and may have just dropped it, with the many crew on deck about to go aloft and take in canvas. Men at its side may be preparing to receive the fishing boat approaching the bow, possibly to deliver fresh provisions. At far left is a small merchantman of the type, built on the English northeast coast, that James Cook was using for his Pacific voyages at this time. 

B1981.25.364
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection