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Oil painting - Seashore: Fishermen Hauling in a Boat
  • Seashore: Fishermen Hauling in a Boat
    George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804
  • Enlarge image

Seashore: Fishermen Hauling in a Boat

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1791 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas
    FRAME: 19th C Neo Classical Frame with front removing glazing door and decorated with composition ornament. Glazed with laminated low reflective glass

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On display at Sewerby Hall and Gardens, Bridlington

This oil painting is one of a large group of objects bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend in 1868. It was painted by George Morland (1763-1804) and is signed G. Morland, 1791, on the rim of the boat being hauled ashore.

George Morland showed a talent for painting at a very young age and exhibited chalk drawings at the Royal Academy as early as 1773, aged only ten years old. He was apprenticed to his father, the painter Henry Robert Morland (1716-1797), for seven years from 1777. During that time he was chiefly employed in the copying and forging of paintings, particularly seventeenth-century Dutch landscapes. He also made several sea-pieces after the French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). This training no doubt informed his later work.

From 1790 onwards Morland was producing larger canvases than he had previously and became particularly associated with rustic and smuggling scenes. He had a prolific output, reputedly painting more than 800 works in the last eight years of his life but his alcoholism meant he was often plagued by debt. His paintings were extremely popular and widely copied by engravers to meet the demand that existed for his work in Britain, France and Germany.

Physical description

The lower left quarter of the painting depicts four fisherman hauling a boat up onto the shore from a choppy sea. Another boat containing a basket and fishing nets is already safely stowed on the beach to the right of the image. A black and white dog watches the men's endeavours. Two baskets, one containing two fish, the other a lantern, lie amongst a mass of fishing nets and rope at the forefront of the image. The top half of the canvas shows brooding grey skies over cliffs which rise from the shore.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1791 (painted)


George Morland, born 1763 - died 1804 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas
FRAME: 19th C Neo Classical Frame with front removing glazing door and decorated with composition ornament. Glazed with laminated low reflective glass

Marks and inscriptions

G Morland 1791
signed and dated on the far left hand side, on the rim of the boat.


Height: 33.625 in estimate, Width: 46.25 in estimate, Height: 1098 mm frame, Width: 1410 mm frame, Depth: 103 mm frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868
Taken from Parkinson, Ronald, "Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860", (Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990), p.xix.
"Chauncy Hare Townshend 1798-1868
Born 20 April 1798 of a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surre. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of 'Great Expectations') with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. He died 25 February 1868. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens."

Historical significance: George Morland (1763-1804), landscape and genre painter, was the son of Henry Robert Morland, painter, engraver and art dealer. His father encouraged his early artistic promise, training him through copying old-master drawings. At 14 Morland began an official seven-year apprenticeship with his father, during which he made a particular study of 17th century Dutch landscapes and genre scenes, copying works which his father sold as original works. He also made copies of shipwreck subjects by Cluade-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and landscapes and fancy pictures by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). These subjects had a great impact on his mature work. Once freed from his apprenticeship he embarked on the life of drinking and association with low-life characters for which he became notorious. By 1786 he had embarked on a fruitful partnership with the engraver William Ward and John Raphael Smith, also a printmaker and a publisher. Morland became established as a painter of moralizing and domestic genre subjects, most of which were intended for the popular print market. As the DNB notes "The subjects were usually of a didactic, moralizing nature, portraying contrasting virtues and vices". Modelled on the work of William Hogarth, they were more in tune with late 18th century ideas of sensibility and were more refined, even sentimental. In 1790 however Morland made the decision to move away from such clear narrative content, painting genre subjects in which there was no narrative or subject matter as such. This seems to have been a response to a shift in taste away from essentially elegant domestic genre, to the picturesque. At the same time he began to modify his style to a less finished, more painterly, even rough handling. He found his new subjects in the village of Paddington where he now lived, opposite an inn frequented by drovers and other country characters. He was hugely prolific and sold most of paintings to dealers. He also continued to work closely with the printmakers and publishers. However, he was no businessman and was often in debt. The last years of his career he was in decline, physically and professionally.

This painting is reproduced as the frontispiece in BLK Henderson, Morland and Ibbetson, (London, P.Allan & Co., 1923). Henderson also offers a critique of the work on page 97; "Fishermen hauling in a Boat. If anyone wishes to test the criticism that Morland's pictures have no movement in them, or that the water is woolly, this study will prove that, in regard to his best work, such strictures are unjust. The drawing of the men shows strain throughout. The actual strain is visible in the bare muscular arm of the fair-haired man, and it is carried along through the group, and along the taut rope to the fourth and somewhat diminutive man who, with rope over shoulder, is an emblem of strain itself. The muscles of his calf swell with effort. Over the massive boat (suggestive of Robinson Crusoe's abortive first attempt) one sees a leaping wave. The water is liquid, transparent, and the crest has broken into spray that actually leaps, while crest after crest of this pale, green water rises and falls along the stormy surface. A mass of limestone towers to the right. In the distance, across the sea, hills are seen upon which the lowering storm has descended and great cloud-wracks sweep ragged and menacing over the sky. The paint is so thinly applied that one can see the grain of the canvas beneath."

Morland had begun to visit the Isle of Wight on a regular basis from about 1790, and continued to do so until the end of his career. This experience added a further dimension to his work, as he embarked on painting coastal scenes, including figures of fishermen, as well as more romantic characters of smugglers and dramatic scenes of shipwreck. The latter were inspired less by direct observation than by Morland's early training with his father, during which he had copied paintings by such artists as Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789). Vernet was a French painter who had worked in Rome and whose paintings had become popular with British collectors and who had specialised in such shipwreck scenes.

Catalogue entry from The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum, selected by Mark Evans, V&A [Japan: Brain Trust], 2002: "In this painting Morland exploits the sensibility of his contemporaries to the concept of the 'Sublime', as defined by Edmund Burke. This aesthetic legitimised and popularised the evocation of terror and related responses, and led to a taste for paintings of shipwrecks. Morland does not dwell on the emotions of the fishermen although they have obviously just returned from risking their lives, out in the tossing sea. Nonetheless the picture inevitably invites us to contemplate their daily struggle with the elements and the ever present threat of death. (Katherine Coombs)".

Historical context note

Taken from Lionel Lambourne, An Introduction to 'Victorian' Genre Painting, from Wilkie to Frith, (Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1982).
"...Throughout the eighteenth century, as the capital [of London] grew in size so did the nostalgia among sophisticated Londoners for the joys of a rural Arcadia. [Francis] Hayman's decorations for the supper boxes at Vauxhall Gardens, the famous London pleasure garden, which portrayed boys sliding on the ice and other rural games, and the charming freshness of milkmaids on May Day [V&A, P.13-1947 and P.12-1947] mark the first phase in the characteristic English development of the 'fancy picture', of which Thomas Gainsborough was the greatest exponent [with his Cottage Door paintings]. Such pastoral themes were to prove hardy perennials in the English genre tradition. As the eighteenth century came to a close, a new note was introduced into pastoral painting by the work of artists like .... W R Bigg. The title alone of Bigg's 'A Cottager at His Door' [V&A, 198-1885] might lead one to expect a fancy subject similar to Gainsborough's frequent treatment of this theme, but the painting's uncompromising note or realism reminds us of the actualities of rural life behind the idyllic Arcadia of the pastoral painters. These qualities are found to an even greater degree in the work of George Morland (1763-1804).

Morland's erratic genius has been long neglected as a subject for serious study. In his own lifetime he became a legendary figure, the public delighting in seeing him as an intemperate genius, always in debt, who miraculously never lost a happy facility for turning out pictorial combinations of pigs and pretty girls. In fact, a closer study of his work reveals both a surprisingly wide acquaintance with contemporary artistic theories and literature (he illustrated Voltaire), and a considerable knowledge of the Dutch School acquired during his apprenticeship to his father, Henry Robert Morland ... Thus equipped, George Morland was able to give to his chosen rural themes a surprising strength [see V&A, The Reckoning, FA 237]. Occasionally, in a work like Johnny Going to the Fair [also called] The Valentine [V&A, 541-1882], a note of ambiguity is introduced which distinguishes the treatment from that of [later] 'Victorian' painters who sometimes were less subtle and understanding in their approach.

The work of Bigg and Morland should be seen against the background of social upheaval in the Agrarian Revolution of the later eighteenth century. The rural life they recorded was soon to be affected also by the remorseless growth of the manufacturing cities, and a dramatic increase in population. The middle classes which arose during these difficult years of economic reconstruction and expansion after the Napoleonic wars still felt a nostalgia for their rural roots, which was to be reflected in the painting which they purchased with the fruits of their new-found prosperity" [end Lambourne].

For an alternative interpretation of the depiction of the rural poor in the genre paintings of George Morland and in the prints after his work, see John Barrell, The darkside of the landscape: The rural poor in English painting 1730-1840, (Cambridge University Press, 1983 [paperback], pp.89-129).

Descriptive line

Oil painting on canvas, 'Seashore: Fishermen Hauling in a Boat', George Morland, 1791

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Henderson, B.L.K., Morland and Ibbetson, (London, P.Allan & Co., 1923). Reproduced as the frontispiece, and p.97 for a critique of this picture.
Special No. of The Studio (1919), 'British Marine Painting', reproduced p.37.
The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950: Masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum, selected by Mark Evans, V&A [Japan: Brain Trust], 2002, cat. no.4. (For text see under History).

Production Note

attribution details taken form Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p.94


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Seashore; Boat; Fishermen; Fish; Fishing net; Lantern; Dog


Paintings; Maritime


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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