Molly and Friends - Thomas Fletcher (1787)
oil on canvas, 95.8 x 135 cm
KINCM:2007.1315, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull

The Molly was built in Boston, Massachusetts in 1759, and the Friends in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1771,  locating the picture squarely in the North Atlantic World. Thomas Fletcher isthe artist responsible for this, the earliest, extant ship portrait which can be ascribed to a Hull School artist. The picture establishes the genre in a number of ways. It employs a low horizon line so viewers can appreciate the portraits of the ships without distracting and competing landscape features. It represents the Molly in two foreground views: a stable, port profile view, in full sale, parallel to the picture plane and horizon line; and in a more dynamic, foreshortened lost stern view, with bare rigging, moored by the ice, but poised to set sail diagonally, towards the left, into the picture, and towards the horizon. Fletcher complements this view of the Molly with a reverse lost stern view of the Friends, in full sail, travelling diagonally towards the right horizon. Whilst the sky and landscape features represent a coherent environment, at first sight, the wind is blowing to the left, in the left hand side of the picture, and into the picture, at its centre. For Fletcher, coherent barometric conditions were less crucial than they would be for Turner, than showing his ability to paint ships in different orientations. In spite of the American origins of the whale ships, the patriotic artist includes a number of Union Jacks ensigns to emphasise that this is now a British merchant fleet and British School picture. Fletcher follows the Van de Veldes is painting his ocean green, but may also be alluding to the nutrient rich green Arctic waters, the preferred hunting grounds of the whalers, evidenced by the three boats dragging a whale back to the Molly for flensing. 1787 was a key year for the British navy. Whilst the Hull whalers were in the Arctic that May, 11 ships containing 700 convicts and 300 crew and guards, set sail for Australia to establish Britain’s first penal colony. The British world stretched across Mercator’s projection of the globe from the Canadian North-Eastern Arctic to the South East of Australia.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum