RONNY MOORTGAT | Battle of Quiberon Bay
60 cms x 90 cms / 24" x 36"
Oil on Canvas
The Battle of Quiberon Bay (1759) was the decisive naval engagement of the Seven Years War, a crushing victory by the Royal Navy over the French Fleet in their own coastal waters. As with so many important battles for the Royal Navy, the engagement was set against the backdrop of a possible invasion of the British Isles by a continental power. The British battle fleet had launched raids on Le Havre earlier in the year, and while they had managed to sink transport ships intended for the invasion, the main French forces still survived intact. With the Royal Navy now blockading St Nazaire, to both contain the French and strangle their commerce, a large battle was inevitable. In high winds, the Comte de Conflans tried to establish a French battle line, but in the face of tempestuous conditions, he decided to regroup amongst the reefs and shoals of Quiberon Bay, believing they offered protection from the British, assuming they would not follow into unknown and dangerous waters. However, despite these adverse conditions, the British admiral, Lord Hawke, pursued at extremely high risk, and decisively outgunned and outmanoeuvred the French. With the victory, the enemy fleet was blockaded in the bay, and eventually dismantled by the French as they were unable to escape.
Moortgat emphasises the rough seas that defined the engagement. The British three-decker in the foreground (possibly the 100-gun Royal George) is shown with most of her gun ports closed due to the swell of the violent North Westerly wind. As the battle would show, having lower ports open was often the leading cause of capsizes in these stormy engagements, with two French ships sinking after taking on water. Although the British were not immune to the conditions, losing a third- rate to a reef, the rough seas gave them a decisive advantage. In a narrative common to the period, the British had the only sailors that had extensive knowledge of combat in rough seas, given how difficult it was to discharge cannons on a pitching ship. The sailors of the Royal Navy were routinely able to discharge two volleys faster than the enemy’s one (a fact lamented even by Napoleon when he planned his own invasion in 1803). In a period often demined by its symmetrical warfare and identical technology on all sides, this represents one of the few cases where an Early Modern nation held a significant military advantage. Even when rivals created navies to match the British fleet in size, as happened in 1805, the quality of British seamanship and gunnery inevitably prevailed.
Quiberon Bay was a hugely important battle and heralded the start of a half-century when Britain clamped down on the waves and became the world’s maritime hegemon. It was also seen as the premier victory in Britain’s Annus Mirabilis of 1759. With Britain and Prussia facing every other major European power, the Royal Navy had to hold the seas while Frederick the Great won the continental land war. As the conflict raged in the Indian and American theatres, the war is often described as the first ‘World War’, and as such control of the seas was critical to the eventual Anglo-Prussian victory.
- Ronny Moortgat is one of the foremost contemporary artists of marine painting. Following in the footsteps of the great maritime masters of the twentieth-century, he depicts his subjects with great discipline, capturing every minute detail of the vessels.Moorgats skill in portraying contemporary and historic ships with such accuracy, whilst also imbuing their unique spirit in his paintings, is due to his lifelong passion for the sea and all that sail on her. This passion was born from growing up by the River Schelde close to Antwerp, Europes second largest port, and watching the hustle and bustle of the shipping from a very young age.Classically trained in the studio of Willem Dolphyn in Antwerp, Moortgat has gone on to join the Belgian Society of Maritime Artists and the Royal Society of Marine Artists.
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