Thomas Luny (1759–1837)
Two sorts of courage move me. The first is the sort of bravery that is called upon for a finite period, for minutes, hours, days or even on occasion months, and which demands a disregard for personal safety and a willingness to risk life and limb of the sake of others. The second is “fortitude”, the determination to endure suffering, privation or personal misfortune over an indefinite period, and still not be defeated. The latter is expressed, unforgettably, by the crippled poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903):
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
These words come to mind – for reasons that will emerge later in this article – when looking at the career of the marine artist, Thomas Luny (1759–1837). His work is familiar to many of us, even if we don’t know his name, if we have seen illustration of the Age of Fighting Sail. At a time before photography Luny was one of the artists who had defined our perception of how that age looked and felt.
|The Bombardment of Algiers, August 1816, by Thomas Luny|
|Self-portrait in youth|
Luny was born in Cornwall – most appropriately in the famed “Year of Victories” when British forces were triumphant on land and sea In Europe and North America. He came to London at the age of eleven and was apprenticed to the marine painter Francis Holman (1729–1784), who was himself son of a master mariner. This apprenticeship proved significant in determining the course of Luny’s career since Holman’s younger brother, Captain John Holman (1733–1816), maintained the family shipping business. The relationship between the brothers appears to have been a close one. Francis would therefore have been in close contact with the maritime world and this showed in the wealth of detail and accuracy in his later work. Talented as Holman was however, it is partly because of his mentorship of the more illustrious Luny that he is now most remembered.
|"A small shipyard on the Thames" by Francis Holman, Luny's mentor|
(National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, PD-ART-LIFE-70
By 1780 Thomas Luny had shown sufficient talent that he was exhibiting marine paintings in the Royal Academy, and indeed he continued to do so up to 1802. From 1783 Luny lived in London’s Leadenhall Street, and here became acquainted with a dealer and framer of paintings called Merle who subsequently promoted Luny's work very successfully.
|The 18-year old Luny hits his stride: "Shipping off Dover" - 1777|
|A ship signalling for a pilot off Dover: By Thomas Luny 1793|
|George Tobin: "Napoleon Bonaparte in Torbay, at anchor, HMS Bellerophon, July 14, 1815"|
National Naval Museum Greenwich, London PAF7978
|George Tobin: Aboriginal hut on Bruny Island, Tasmania, 1792 (Mitchell Library)|
|Engraving of Luny's "The Glorious First of June"|
|Thomas Luny: "Boarding the ferry at Teignmouth" - painted 1821|
(With acknowledgements to Wikigallery)
|Thomas Luny: "A frigate of the Royal Navy leaving Cork Harbour 1830"|
|The Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798, at 10 p.m.|
Painted by Luny in 1835, over three decades since he had been afflicted
For the first two parts of this occasional series on Naval Artists of the 18th Century see the following earlier blogs, accessible from the Blog Archive in the sidebar:
Part 1: 19th December 2014
Part 2: 9th January 2015