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This Rowlandson watercolour came up for sale in the south of England last week. I had been planning to leave a bid for it myself but, what with one thing and another, never got around to it. It didn’t actually matter in the end, as the final hammer price of £2,900 was way above the amount I’d have been prepared to pay for it.

I’m not surprised the painting did so well, it ticks a number of collecting boxes in terms of subject matter (naval), place (central London) and provenance (formerly part of the C.J.W. Winter collection), which were always likely to bump the price up above the original £400 – £600 estimate.

The picture has been signed by Rowlandson (bottom right) and carries the title Tower Stairs (bottom left) indicating that it was painted from the north bank of the Thames near the Tower of London. I must admit that I have been unable to identify the ship in the picture, or work out precisely what is being done to it. The presence of gun-ports in the side of the hull indicate that it is (or was due to become) a Royal Navy vessel which was presumably being laid-up at the Blackwall shipyards.

I count 11 gun-ports on this side of the vessel, meaning a 22 gun-rating in total. The Royal Navy only built around a dozen or so 22 gun frigates during the course of the Napoleonic War, which were all launched between 1806 and 1812, so this may help narrow the possible date of the painting down a bit. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can throw any more light on the contents of the picture in the comments section below.

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