“Pozzuoli, looking towards Baiæ – Istria in the distance”

“Pozzuoli, looking towards Baiæ – Istria in the distance”



1793 – 1867

English School

 "Pozzuoli, looking towards Baiæ - Istria in the distance" 

Oil on canvas, traces of signature lower right, signed and inscribed on label on reverse

91.5 x 122 cms 

36 x 48 inches

Overall framed size 115 x 148 cms

                                 451/4 x 581/4 ins


Exhibited Royal Academy 1842 No. 313


This notable Victorian marine and landscape painter, who worked in both oils and watercolours often on a large scale, was praised by both John Constable and the eminent art critic John Ruskin for the artist’s portrayal of clouds and sea calling him the “…leader of our English Realists…” and the latter also thought him the nearest rival to J M W Turner as a delineator of cloud forms.

He was born in Sunderland on 3rd December 1793 and named Clarkson after the slave trade abolitionist Thomas Clarkson who was a friend of his father. He has been called William Clarkson Stanfield in many art reference books but this is erroneous and he only ever went after the name Clarkson Stanfield. His father, James Field Stanfield, was of Irish descent who, at the time of his son’s birth was keeping a spirit merchant’s shop but previously he had been a seaman, actor and author of prose and verse. His mother was Mary Hoad who had been an actress and accomplished artist.

In 1806, the thirteen year old was apprenticed to a heraldic coach-painter but in 1808 he went to sea in a Shield’s collier, delivering coal extracted from the mines to the industrial cities. Whilst in London in 1812, he was pressed into the Royal Navy and served on the Sheerness guardship Namur. It was while serving there that he first displayed his artistic talent by painting scenery for a play performed by the crew. However he was invalided in December 1814 but his talents as a draughtsman had been noticed and actively encouraged. In March 1815 he made a voyage to China on the East Indiaman Warley which provided the opportunity to produce many drawings and sketches.

A change of direction ensued in August 1816, the consequence of missing his next ship to Madras as he was visiting his father so he abandoned his life at sea and began work painting scenes for the Royalty Theatre, Wellclose Square, Wapping. The eminent marine painter John Thomas Serres had entered into an agreement whereby he was a one eighth shareholder in the newly opened Royal Coburg theatre on the corner of Waterloo Road and New Cut and he was appointed “Director of the internal Decorations…and also principal artist and scene Painter…” It was a huge undertaking and Serres needed assistants so when it opened on Whit Monday, 11th May 1818, the programme for the opening night stated that: “Decorations of the Interior and Grand Panoramic Marine Saloon designed and executed by Mr Serres (Marine Painter to His Majesty)…The Scenery is entirely New, and painted by the following celebrated artists – Messrs. Serres, Latilla, Morris, Scruton, Stanfield and Assistants.” The project for Serres eventually proved to be a financial disaster and he was burdened with debt for the rest of his life. Writing of him in his John Thomas Serres; The Tireless Enterprise of a Marine Artist, Alan Russett says: “In spite of these problems he continued to play his part in the management and productions of the theatre. He does not appear to have taken a major role as scene painter but Clarkson Stanfield figures frequently, the Coburg being the cradle of his reputation.” Prince Leopold, who was a patron of the theatre, visited twice in 1819, one of these to see the production of North Pole, and this proved to be have an extraordinary set with a “Ship of Immense Size…”(manned by a) “…Crew of Sixty Persons.” A “Vision of Eddystone Rock, Elsinore and Labrador and Amphitrite, and dancers representing the four elements, the four winds and the four seasons” were supplied by Serres and Stanfield.

Stanfield’s work in theatre brought him into contact with the renowned Scottish painter David Roberts and although they were both competing for contracts, they became firm friends. In 1822 they were both hired by Elliston at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane but Stanfield continued to work there for a further twelve years. His backdrops and scenic painting raised standards in this creative genre but also raised awareness and appreciation of landscape painting in general. It elevated his status to that of the greatest theatrical painter of the age and became particularly famous for huge land and sea travelogues which were on an enormous scroll up to twenty feet high and several hundred feet long that unrolled during the progress of the story which, together with clever lighting and sound effects, enhanced the unfolding drama. He also took these moving dioramas for dedicated exhibitions outside theatres and in 1816 produced the Destruction of Algiers and in 1827, in collaboration with David Roberts among others, the Battle of Navarino. Both of these complex productions toured Europe between 1824 and 1829. The tours of Italy and Germany provided Stanfield with further inspiration and he created two further productions: The Military Pass of the Simplon in 1830 and Venice and its adjoining Islands in 1831. The remuneration for the Simplon piece was the considerable sum of £300 and apparently took him only eleven days to complete. The Venice work, apart from the gas lighting effects, also included singing gondoliers as well as other props which added to the spectacle during the 20 minutes or so that it took to roll out. Elements of it were later utilised in stage productions of the Merchant of Venice and the whole concept of the moving scenes became popular in Christmas pantomimes, further augmenting his reputation.

Stanfield was a close friend of Charles Dickens and in correspondence the author always addressed him as “My Dear Stanny.” These letters were composed in faux nautical terms and referenced their meeting for tea or dinner in Hampstead or excursions to Gravesend. In one such missive, Dickens states that he would never presume that Stanfield would forget that the latter would forget their forthcoming Monday meeting at the Athenaeum: “…because none but a Mouldy Swabas never broke biscuit or lay out on the foc’sl yard arm in a gale of fair wind, ever forgot an appointment with a messmet.” 

 He painted scenery for many of Dickens’ amateur productions at Tavistock House, including the author’s 1855 production of Wilkie Collins’ Lighthouse where Stanfield created a marine act drop of the Eddystone Lighthouse. It was later on display at Gad’s Hill Place, Kent, Dickens’s final home from 1858 until his death in 1870 and was sold in the disposal sale. Because it is now in the collection of the Dickens House in London, it is one of the earliest examples of English scene painting still in existence. 

 Clarkson Stanfield was involved in easel painting at the same time as his scene painting career and he exhibited his first pictures at the Royal Academy and the British Institution in 1820. In the same year he had a collection of his drawings included in a volume of engravings published by George Cooke. This was advertised as containing “…drawings from the more eminent artists and Stanfield was in august company as there were works by Crome, Cox, Prout, Callcott and Cotman among others included. By 1834 he had so many commissions that he gave up scene painting.

 As E H H Archibald writes in his Dictionary of Sea Painters, “Few artists had greater real knowledge of ships and sea conditions than Stanfield. …reflects the esteem in which Stanfield was held, especially by those who saw his realism as the desirable alternative to Turner’s later oils. Stanfield owed much to Turner’s earlier work, and after the latter’s death was the undisputed master of British marine painting.” Working in both oil and watercolour he had a great ability to create dramatic, complex and realistic compositions painted in clear, bright colours and surface effects which glowed. He seemed to have eschewed having a formal artistic training in a master’s studio preferring to rely on an innate talent and learning techniques from his scenic painting. Being of northern extraction, he seems to have been drawn to artists from the same part of the UK and was a particular admirer of the sea painter John ‘Jock’ Wilson and also took advice from Wilson’s master, the Scottish landscape painter Alexander Nasmyth. He also probably learnt from John Thomas Serres when working for Serres at the Coburg Theatre in 1818.


He first travelled to Paris in July 1824 with William Brockenden and there is a possibility that he met Richard Parkes Bonington there as he was an ardent admirer of the artist, buying three of his paintings at the sale flowing his death in 1828. Stanfield, Samuel Prout and two others formed an unofficial committee to handle the sale of the remainder of Bonington’s pictures on behalf of the family. This display of altruism was repeated in 1840 when the esteemed marine artist George Chambers died. Stanfield completed an unfinished work that remained on Chambers’ easel to increase its sale value to aid the financial situation of the widow.

He travelled extensively in Britain and Europe producing paintings depicting scenes in Italy, Germany, France, Holland and Switzerland with examples including: The Castle of Ischia, Kingdom of Naples; The ruins of Palmyra; the Isola Bella, Lago Maggiore; The Mole at Ancona, with Trajan’s arch; The Battle of Trafalgar; The opening of new London Bridge by William 1V; HMS Victory towed into Gibraltar; Tintagel Castle, coast of Cornwall; Wind against the tide, the Thames at Tilbury Fort; Dordrecht; Wreckers off Fort Rouge, Calais; A Skirmish off Heligoland; French troops fording the Margra – Sarzana and the Carrara mountains in the distance; View of the Pic du Midi d’Ossau in the Pyrenees with brigands. William IV chose Stanfield himself to portray the royal opening of the new London Bridge in 1832 much to the chagrin of Royal Academicians who thought that the commission should have gone to one of them. Probably his most famous work is The Battle of Trafalgar, painted in 1863 for the United Services Club in Pall Mall, where it still hangs.  

Stanfield was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1832 and made a full member in 1835 and he exhibited 135 works there. He was a founder member of the Society of British Artists and was elected its President in 1829. Several artistic honours were bestowed upon him, one of which was being appointed the first Curator of Pictures at Greenwich Hospital in 1844.

He had a large family having been married twice and had nine sons and three daughters, having had two children with his first wife before her untimely death in 1821 but only six of these children survived.  The family moved to The Green Hill in Hampstead in 1847 where he held meetings of the Sketching Society and entertained his large circle of friends which included Sir Edwin Landseer, William Thackeray, C R Leslie as well as Dickens and Roberts. One son, George Clarkson Stanfield (1828-1878), also became a Royal Academy exhibiting artist specialising in continental scenes and his work is only slightly inferior to that of his father. 

He was awarded a Gold Medal for three paintings which he sent to the 1855 Paris Exhibition and he was made an Honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1858. He also undertook much engraving work from 1827 with contributions to the London and its Vicinity, as well as his own work in 1836 and Sketches on the Moselle in 1838. He illustrated the sea stories Pirate and the Three Cutters and Poor Jack for his friend Captain Marryat.

It is said of Stanfield that ‘few have more often depicted the sea, and none in a manner more scenic.’ He is also described as ‘a noble painter and, if not the greatest, amongst the great.’ Another quote by Ruskin has it that: “He will carry a mighty wave up against the sky and make its whole body dark and substantial against the distant light, using all the while nothing more than chaste and unexaggerated local colour to gain the relief. His surface is at once lustrous, transparent and accurate to a hair’s breadth in every curve’’

He died on 18th May 1867 in London and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. There is a portrait of Clarkson Stanfield in the National Portrait Gallery by John Partridge and another by the same artist in the collection of the Royal Academy. The National Maritime’s portrait of him is by John Simpson and there is another portrayal in the Royal Scottish Academy by David Macnee.

Museums and institutions that hold examples of Clarkson Stanfield’s work include: Tate Britain; Victoria and Albert Museum; National Maritime Museum; Courtauld Institute; Royal Academy; British Museum; Royal Watercolour Society; Wallace Collection; Science Museum, London; Wellcome Collection; Government Art Collection; Guildhall Art Gallery; Fitzwilliam Museum, Ashmolean Museum; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Leicester Museum and Art Gallery; Manchester Art Gallery; York Art Gallery; Sheffield Museum; Birmingham Museum; Hartlepool Museum; Wolverhampton Art Gallery; Bury Art Museum; Sunderland Museum; Reading Museum; Russell-Cotes Museum; Ferens Art Collection; The Box, Plymouth; Royal Holloway, University of London; Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge; Dover Collections; Brighton and Hove Museum; The Amelia, Tunbridge Wells; Watford Museum; Museum of Gloucester; Great Yarmouth Museum; Victoria Art Gallery; Williamson Art Gallery and Museum; Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council; Astley Hall Museum; Eton College; Sudeley House; University Hospital, Bristol; Usher Gallery; Torre Abbey Museum; National Trust: Tyntesfield, Penrhyn Castle, Tatton Park; Thurrock Museum; Glasgow Museum; Dundee Art Collection; Historic Environment, Scotland; Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh (which has a portrait c.1820 by Stanfield of the Robert Liston F.R.C.S.); National Museum, Cardiff; Ulster Museum; Government House, Jersey; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Yale Center for British Art. 




Dictionary of Sea Painters in Europe and America – E.H.H. Archibald

Marine Painting in England 1700-1900 – David Cordingly

A Dictionary of British Landscape Painters - M. H. Grant

John Thomas Serres; The Tireless Enterprise of a Marine Artist – Alan Russett

A Dictionary of British Marine Painters - Arnold Wilson 

The Dictionary of Victorian Painters - Christopher Wood