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Coast Scene with Smugglers

George Morland, English, 1763 - 1804

Made in England, Europe


Oil on canvas on panel

38 1/4 x 50 1/2 inches (97.2 x 128.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Edward Browning, 1947

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

    Morland's association with the Isle of Wight lasted nearly the whole of his working career, from his first visit in 1789, when he stayed at Eglantine Cottage, Shanklin,1 to his last visit in April 1799, when he fled to Cowes with his wife to escape his creditors in London.2 From 1790 he began to exhibit views of the beach and cliffs there, populated by the colorful inhabitants--tile smugglers and fishermen who became Morland's friends. In 1792 J. R. Smith described a smuggling scene by Morland as having "the General air. . of Vernet."3 Although Morland certainly sketched the topography and citizens of the Isle of Wight from life,4 the finished paintings were always executed in the studio, and consequently were filtered through the prism of Vernet's (1714-1789) conventions and mannerisms. Morland's coast scenes are superficially lively and fresh but lack the wet, salty immediacy of Gainsborough's (1727-1788) sea pieces such as Fisherman Setting Out (1781, 39 x 49", Mrs. Robert Mellon Bruce Collection) or Coast Scene: Selling Fish (1781, 39 1/2 X 50", London, Westminster Trustees).5

    What we see in Morland's picture are cognac smugglers at work during a time when smuggling carried the capital penalty. What these men were smuggling was understood at the time of the picture's exhibition, for in 1792 J. R. Smith wrote of the smuggling scene that such men "laugh at the prohibitions of Government, and run every hazard to supply their fellow-subjects with the unadulterated spirits of other nations."6 One of Morland's biographers objected to the artist's failure to distinguish "the honest and harmless fisherman ... from the smuggler and depredator,"7 but the line between smuggler and fisherman was, at this time, a thin one.

    A smaller version of Coast Scene, more coarsely and roughly drawn, appeared at Sotheby's in 1968.8 The scene, which was identified in the catalogue as a view at Shanklin, Isle of Wight, is topographically identical to the Philadelphia picture, with the same boats and nearly the same cloud formations. The three central figures in the foreground (the kneeling man and the woman and child to his right) are in both pictures, but the two men with pitchforks at the left in the Philadelphia picture, the dogs, horse, barrel, and man carrying a barrel on the right, are absent from the smaller version.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 235-236.

    1. Walter Gilbey and E. D. Cuming. George Morland: His Life and Works. London, 1907, p. 83.
    2. George Dawe. The Life of George Morland, With an Introduction and Notes by J.J. Foster. London, 1904, p. 83.
    3. John Raphael Smith, A Descriptive Catalogue of Thirty-Six Pictures Painted by George Morland . .. to be Engraved by Subscription by and under the Direction of J[ohn] R[aphael] Smith (London, [1792]), p. 11.
    4. Hassell (1806, p. 38) described meeting Morland at Shanklin, when the artist "drew from his pocket a sketch-book, filled with the most exquisite treasures."
    5. Ellis K. Waterhouse. Gainsborough. 2nd ed. London, 1966, nos. 954, 955, pls. 224, 225.
    6. Smith (see note 3), p. 11.
    7. George Dawe. The Life of George Morland, With an Introduction and Notes by J.J. Foster. London, 1904, pp. 103-4.
    8. April 3, 1968, lot 53.

    David Winter. George Morland (1763-1804). Stanford, California, 1977, p. 254 fig. 73, p. 175 no. P64.