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Nautical past sails into Chubb Gallery

The current exhibit at the Chubb Gallery signals the Bermuda National Trust’s ambition to share with the public works from the Faye and Geoffrey Elliott Collection.

The Elliott Collection includes more than 200 paintings. It has an impressive scope of remarkable artistic, social and historical value to Bermuda.

The show of finely preserved early to mid-19th century watercolours comprises four highly skilled British artists, who were high-ranking members of the military and navy: Thomas Driver, Gaspard LeMarchant Tupper, Admiral Sir Willoughby Lake and Michael Seymour.

The paintings follow a prescribed method of picture making for the British Armed Forces. These paintings were not created for art’s sake, but rather as topographical surveys, navigational aids and as an adjunct to cartography.

You sense the rigorous draughting process that was required, especially in the work by Driver. Although gridlines and annotations are visible on some of his paintings they still convey poised and restful scenes.

Driver illuminates The Old Town of nearly 200 years ago in splendid detail. His 1823 painting, St George’s Bermuda, shows the old town — no longer the island’s capital — as a bustling garrison town with colourful red-coated soldiers.

Numerous ships can be seen either sailing, at anchor, or beached at Convict Bay. Of course so much of the layout of the town and its buildings are extant. It is interesting to spot similarities and, for the sharp-eyed, subtle differences too.

The significance of the sea to Bermuda is expressed in works that also serve as fascinating primary resource material for historians.

Effectively curated, the exhibit has an extra layer of interest with the inclusion of work that contains figures. They add social context and a snapshot of life in a colony that was becoming successful and strategically important.

Driver’s 1816 painting, Harrington Sound, Bermuda (Afternoon), is notable for a rare depiction of slaves at work on the shore near a Shark Hole shipyard. Interestingly, Driver stayed on the island for some years as a landscape painter following his service. He has prominent descendants living in Bermuda today, including Chief Justice Ian Kawaley.

The exquisite paintings of Seymour — a generation after Driver — are a pleasure. The North Rocks is appealing for a charming incongruity: a dapper Victorian gentleman complete with top hat at sea astride North Rock. The picture is almost a metaphor for the scientific zeal as well as the wanderlust of the Victorians.

Challenge Cup Day, by the same artist in 1846, appears to be a forerunner of fitted dinghy races. Tupper was from Guernsey and his intriguing 1857 portrait, Pilot Steering a Boat, shows possibly a Bermudian pilot post emancipation, tiller in hand.

The Hebe, painted by Lake, would become the design inspiration for the modern day schooner, the Spirit of Bermuda.

The show is an enjoyable and informative insight into the military and nautical life of the island — inextricable elements that have shaped Bermuda’s history.

It runs until July 28 at the Chubb Gallery in the Chubb Building, Woodbourne Avenue, Hamilton.