Untitled (Engagement between USS Constitution and HMS Cyane and HMS Levant)
This small oil on panel painting by French artist Ambroise Louis Garneray depicts the battle between USS Constitution and the British frigates HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. Though the two smaller British ships carried a combined 42 guns compared to Constitution’s 52, they were all of a shorter range. Constitution‘s Commanding Officer, Captain Charles Stewart, used this to his advantage, but also skillfully maneuvered his ship into position to deliver crippling blows. Although Garneray took some creative license with this rendition of the battle, he provides a compelling vision of the lighting and feel of a battle extending into the night.
With more than a decade of firsthand sailing experience to rely on, Garneray specialized in painting naval battles. He was born in 1783 to Marguerite Courgit and Jean-Francois Garneray. The young Ambroise undoubtedly drew inspiration from his father, who was a painter and pupil of Jacques Louis David. Despite this pedigree, Garneray joined the French Navy at the age of 13 and sailed for the Indian Ocean. In 1800, he enlisted with the famed privateer Robert Surcouf and fought in a number of notable actions. In 1806, while serving on board the frigate Belle Poule, he was captured by the British and interred in the prison hulks off Portsmouth, England. After his released in 1814, Garneray, inspired by his own adventures and misfortunes, began painting full time.