Preparatory Sketch for Battle of Tripoli

by John Steven Dews

DIMENSIONS: (unframed)19.1 x 26.7 in./ 7.5 x 10.5 cm
MEDIUM: Pencil on paper

Catalogue No: 4853 Categories: ,

Known for his sailing paintings, John Steven Dews is the pre-eminent marine artist of our day. This finely detailed pencil drawing was Dews’ preparation for a large scale painting of the Bombardment of Tripoli, by the US Navy, which took place in 1804.

This drawing depicts a moment during the Second Battle of Tripoli Harbour, which took place in 1804. The battle is part of the First Barbary War between forces of the United States and Tripoli. Commodore Edward Preble assumed command of the U.S. Mediterranean Squadron in 1803. By October of that year Preble had begun a blockade of Tripoli harbour. The first significant action of the blockade came on 31 October when USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted coral reef and the Tripolitan Navy was able to capture the ship along with its crew and Captain William Bainbridge. Philadelphia was turned against the Americans and anchored in the harbour as a gun battery.

On the night of 16 February 1804, a small contingent of U.S. Marines in a captured Tripolitan ketch rechristened USS Intrepid and led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., were able to deceive the guards on board Philadelphia and float close enough to board the captured ship. Decatur’s men stormed the vessel and decimated the Tripolitan sailors standing guard. To complete the daring raid, Decatur’s party set fire to Philadelphia, denying her use to the enemy. Decatur’s bravery in action made him one of the first American military heroes since the Revolutionary War. The British Admiral Horatio Nelson, himself known as a man of action and bravery, is said to have called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.” Even Pope Pius VII stated, “The United States, though in their infancy, have done more to humble the anti-Christian barbarians on the African coast than all the European states had done.”

Provenance

Private Collection, United Kingdom

 

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Biography

John Steven Dews was born near Hull, Yorkshire in 1949, and his connection with the sea began from an early age, when he inherited a love for the ocean from his Grandfather, who was an Assistant Harbour Master. The boy’s ability for painting ships was first recognised when he was five, and his picture was displayed in the school hall. His late teens however, were less promising; he failed his art A Level and then dropped out of a Fine Arts Degree after only a few weeks, because he disagreed with the way it was taught.
However, he went on to build a spectacular body of work, ready for his first exhibition in 1976, where nearly every painting was sold and his stratospheric rise to success began.

The following year he held an Exhibition in San Francisco which also sold out to great critical acclaim, and since then, Dews has continued exhibiting regularly at leading galleries in London and around the world. Validation of his pre-eminence came in the Sotheby’s sale of Maritime Art in London on April 28th 1999, where his original, entitled ‘Off Cowes’, sold for a phenomenal price for a living marine artist.

This piece presents a brilliant opportunity to own a Dews; the artist is now commissioned for years in advanced and his paintings continue to fetch higher and higher prices. Dews’ painting of HMS Victory at Trafalgar sold in 2016 for close to £170,000. Sotheby’s described him as “The best there is, nobody to touch him.”