What is this?
Constitution versus Guerriere by Ambroise Louis Garneray
When is it from?
Probably after 1815
Why is it Important?
Ambroise Garneray specialized in painting naval battles, and he did so with the vigor of one who participated in his fair share of them. The son of Jean-Francois Garneray, a painter and pupil of Jacques Louis David, the young Ambroise undoubtedly drew inspiration from his father and his associates. Despite this pedigree, at the age of thirteen Garneray joined the French Navy 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 Belle Poule, he was captured by the British and interred on the prison hulks off Portsmouth, England. Finally released in 1814, he began painting full time the following year, inspired by the adventures and misfortunes of eighteen years experience.
What this watercolor lacks in accuracy, it make up for with dramatic action. Depicting the moment when Guerriere’s final mast tumbled into the sea, the viewer instantly recognizes the victor. While a lone British seaman nails a shredded British ensign to the stump of Guerriere’s mizzenmast, Constitution‘s three American ensigns wave proudly above the chaos. This scene must have been a source of delight for a Frenchman who languished in British prisons for eight long years.