George Morland, English, 1763 - 1804

Made in England, Europe


Oil on canvas

38 1/8 × 57 inches (96.8 × 144.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The William L. Elkins Collection, 1924

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George Morland learned the recipe for marine disaster painting from the work of Claude-Joseph Vernet and Vernet’s followers in England (Vernet was the most important marine and landscape painter in eighteenth-century France). Using English scenery and outlaw characters, including smugglers and “wreckers” who salvaged the debris of a shipwreck, Morland took the basic structure of Vernet’s work and made it local, contemporary, and more naturalistic.

Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    What we see in Shipwreck is not the moment when a large seagoing ship is wrecked, for that has already taken place in the right background, but the destruction against a rocky coast of a smaller sailing craft, perhaps a rescue boat or a lifeboat. Stimulated perhaps by his observation of such a scene during his visits to the Isle of Wight, Morland treated the theme of the shipwreck from around 1790 until the end of his life. Horrific tales of maritime disasters and paintings depicting these events were popular in English and French painting after the middle of the eighteenth century.1 Morland, who as a youth is known to have studied prints after Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), must have known of Verner's specialty, his shipwrecks exhibited regularly at the Salon between 1766 and 1789. In addition, the shipwrecks of Philippe de Loutherbourg (1740-1812), the primary exponent of the genre in England in the 1770s and 1780s, were known to him.

    Morland's shipwrecks are slightly tame in their attempt to thrill us with this calamity so dreaded by the eighteenth-century public. Nevertheless, his work forms a prelude to the far more successful shipwrecks of Turner (1775-1851) a decade or so later. Shipwreck should be compared to Morland's The Wreck--A Seascape, in which the composition is repeated with a few variations.2

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 244-245.

    1. T.S.R. Boase, "Shipwrecks in English Romantic Painting," Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes, vol. 22, nos. 3-4 (July-December 1959), pp. 332-46.
    2. Oil on canvas, 57 x 39", Charteris sale, London, June 14, 1915. Photograph: London, Witt Library.

    Catalogue of Paintings in the Private Collection of W. L. Elkins. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1887-1900, vol. 2, no. 65, repro. (as "Marine View"); David Winter. George Morland (1763-1804). Stanford, California, 1977, p. 191 no. P156.