The Capture of the Westmorland

Trying to come up with a travel plan with a difference?  Ever wanted to go on your own Grand Tour? Well, The Ashmolean just might be the destination that fits, especially on a Wednesday afternoon @ 3.00pm, as I recently discovered.

It’s simples as a Meerkat might say, educational and incredible to realise just how very lucky King Carlos III of Spain was and how very unlucky some young chaps from Britain were in terms of the goodies on display.

‘Please explain’ as Pauline Hanson once (or maybe on many occasions) said.

OK in laycat terms then…the exhibition focuses on the cargo of The Westmorland (an armed merchant ship), which sailed through the Mediterranean in the late 1770s and was captured by the French on route to England.

The perishable yummies on board the ship, such as the parmesan cheese and olive oil were sold locally, however the bounty of luxury goods; books; paintings and antiquities were sold to the King of Spain, whom forwarded the majority of these to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and in an attempt to make my limited knowledge even briefer…happily after a huge amount of research and locating of these precious pieces, the Ashmolean can now provide people like me, with a wonderful opportunity to view the kind of things young wealthy chaps on their own ‘Grand tours’ tended to spurge on.

Being me, I scribbled down several items that I feel deserve special mention – though prior to viewing my list – what truly blows the mind (and thank you Patsy for pointing this out).  Putting these paintings and drawings in context and recognising that this period pre-dates the digital camera, really cements the significance and impact of the artworks, particularly for those at home whom perhaps would not get the opportunity to make the trip.

A few things you’ll discover – Francis Basset – apparently the fellow whom lost the most of his goods in transit ‘spent lavishly’.

Look out for:

  • She’s so beautiful – #112 – The Cumaean Sibyl ca. 1777
  • Potentially a gift for your lady friend (or Mother) – #78 – an incredibly detailed fan
  • Six pretty perfect, especially in terms of the stillness and dryness they portray – watercolours, produced by John Robert Cozens.
  • In the first exhibition room, a really attractive, dare I say Hot Bloke painting – #101 Portrait of an Unknown Man ca. 1777
  • An exquisite marble table top
  • The Not as Hot Bloke – Carlos III, though referred to as a ‘kindly ruler’ – which is obviously a lot more important.
  • And amongst the impressive to graze upon books, a wonderfully rare one, containing new botanical research belonging to Lyde Browne.  Really look out for this for the two pages of illustrations displayed are superb.

Finally and back to the recommendation of attending on a Wednesday at 3.00pm.

Well, the Museum puts on its own tour of the exhibition (another one of Patsy’s great ideas), at this specific time.

And in terms of our experience…our group numbered seven and our guide made the exhibition come alive.  For she introduced us to roughly 20-25 pieces in different areas, providing us with a sufficient backstory, whilst imparting the value and importance of these highly-prized goods in context with the period and the people whom had their treasures captured.

The exhibition runs until 27 August 2012.