Life in the Ocean Representing the Usual Occupations of the Young Officers in the Steerage of a British Frigate at Sea

Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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The setting below deck shows the off-duty activities of young midshipmen and other men in their mess between decks. The layered effect of the decking is accentuated by the companionways to the deck above and below, by feet on the steps, a soldier's head looking up through a hatch and a vertical anchor chain running through the decks. In the foreground a writing slope rests on the deck, together with a discarded jacket and sextant, while behind a group of figures look on. A man in the foreground lies on the deck working on mathematical calculations with a slate, book and rule. Behind him a colleague sketches. Wearing a jacket, and with his back to the viewer, he is overlooked as he draws with paints. This may be a self portrait of Earle since the open portfolio resting on the floor indicates the type of topographical sketches which he made on his overseas journeys, thus signifying the painting was completed after the artist's return to England. The buckets hanging up to the right have the king's monogram 'GR', presumably referring to George IV who reigned from 1820 to 1830. Behind, sailors pore over calculations or sketch, and other seamen are depicted in a room beyond. In the far right a group of older marines drink; one has his head in his hand leaning over a bucket. In the centre to the right a cabin boy in a red smock grinds coffee and further right a boy sits on the floor holding a monkey on a lead. He has discarded his fiddle as he chats to a companion. Behind them a sailor and marine sergeant survey the scene. The uniforms belong to sailors and marines but are worn in a variety of ways.

National Maritime Museum



Life in the Ocean Representing the Usual Occupations of the Young Officers in the Steerage of a British Frigate at Sea




oil on canvas


H 58.4 x W 91.4 cm

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