James Wilson Carmichael (1800-1868)

Trireme at the port of an acropolis

Oil on canvas, cm 61 x 104

Signed and dated bottom right "J.W.Carmichael / 1862"

On the back Christie’s stamp

James Wilson Carmichael  (1800-1868)

James Wilson Carmichael  (1800-1868)

Trireme at the port of an acropolis with parade

Oil on canvas, cm 61 x 104

Signed and dated bottom right "J.W.Carmichael / 1862"

On the back Christie’s stamp

Carmichael was born near Newcastle on 9 June 1800. His father worked as a carpenter specializing in shipbuilding and transmitted the 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 devote himself to art. On several occasions he exhibited at the Royal Academy oil paintings and watercolors. In 1845 he moved to London, where he was already known as a skilled 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 this painting 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 the braziers lit, smoking with incense, in thanks to the Olympic gods. The painter’s Greece is a land of dreams, just as the English of the first half of the nineteenth century imagined it, fascinated by ancient ruins and Mediterranean landscapes. A land that had recently risen from the secular setback imposed by the Ottoman Turks, also thanks to the efforts of brave English men, on all Lord Byron, for whom Greek independence meant the rebirth of the ancient classical civilization, with its ideal of beauty, that a few years later would have greatly fascinated painters of the Victorian era. In Carmichael’s painting, however, there is also the expression of that feeling of the sublime, which the romantic artists found precisely in the sea views, where water, currents and high waves leave the observer stunned, moved to reflect on the immense power of nature and to dream of an authentic and absolute freedom. The light of the early hours of the morning covers with a golden patina the waters, the wood of the boat and the dry land, where pink reflections charge with a charm out of time temples, towers and other buildings neatly arranged on the slope. Carmichael is an excellent painter of the English nineteenth century, able through his marine views, to communicate the ideals and feelings of the man of romanticism.

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