New Tim Thompson painting “The Glorious First of June, 1794”
It’s always a thrill to receive a new painting from Tim Thompson, the renowned marine artist whose historic scenes are unparalleled for their accuracy, drama and atmospheric quality. The latest out of Thompson’s studio is entitled “Glorious First of June, 1794” and is a tour-de-force.
The painting is a depiction of the first and largest fleet action of the naval conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the First French Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars. The British Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Howe attempted to prevent the passage of a vital French grain convoy from the United States, which was protected by the French Atlantic Fleet, commanded by Rear-Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse. The two forces clashed in the Atlantic Ocean, some 400 nautical miles (741 km) west of the French island of Ushant on June 1, 1794.
The action was the culmination of a campaign that had criss-crossed the Bay of Biscay. During the battle, Howe’s ships inflicted a severe tactical defeat on the French fleet. However, and despite losing seven of his ships of the line, Villaret had bought enough time for the French grain convoy to reach safety unimpeded by Howe’s fleet, getting through to the starving people of France and securing a strategic success. Both sides ultimately claimed victory, and the outcome of the battle was seized upon by the press of both nations as a demonstration of the prowess and bravery of their respective navies.
Featured ships: Le Venguer, sinking at the right; Le Entreprenante, further to leeward; HM Cutter Rattler, foreground; HMS Culloden, L’Achille, and HMS Brunswick, centre; HMS Valiant at the left of Rattler; Le Patriote. The British fleet to windward engaged at distance.
The painting illustrates the ships engaged in the height of battle, churning in the white water with their sails full of wind and multiple flags of both nation’s flying proudly as crew fight courageously amidst the smoke and flames. The scene shows the Le Venguer falling away to leeward in a sinking state, and calling for assistance, after her duel with HMS Brunswick.
Rescuers aboard the Culloden, Rattler, and Alfred, seeing the great peril of Venguer’s situation, launched as many of their boats as could swim, and rushed in to save over 400 of the French ship’s crew. The boats of the Alfred took off 213 crew, and those of the Culloden and the cutter (the zeal and activity of whose commander, Lieutenant John Winne, did him great credit) nearly as many more. Consequently, when the ship went down a few minutes after the last boat had pushed off from her, there were no visible remaining crew who would be counted as casualties.
Among the survivors of Vengeur’s crew were Captain Renaudin and his son, a boy of twelve years of age. The two were accidentally taken off by different ships’ boats; and each, until they met again at Portsmouth, imagined the other had perished. The meeting was very affecting to all who witnessed it and of course to the father and son reunited.