Influenced by Dutch and English tradition, the artist William Adolphus Knell attained an impressive reputation as a British maritime painter during the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria, herself a renowned patron of the arts, twice commissioned paintings from Knell (“The Landing of the Prince Regent at Dover” and “The Review of the Fleet at Spithead”), and her husband, Prince Albert purchased one (“The Arrival of Prince Albert”). All three remain among the Royal Collection; other Knell paintings are also housed in the preeminent Parliamentary Art Collection and National Maritime Museum. During his lifetime, Knell’s “Destruction of Toulon 1793” was additionally awarded second prize in the 1847 Westminster Hall Competitions. Today he is remembered for his striking œuvre’s expressive use of color and atmosphere, but also the mentorship of his equally talented sons, William Calcott Knell and Adolphus Knell.
This oil on canvas piece, entitled “The Storm,” depicts one of Knell’s favorite and most accomplished subjects: a seascape in a storm, rough green waves thrashing boats piloted by brave, desperate men. The clouds above are an oppressive blue-gray, the brushstrokes evocative of the choppy sea below, and in this way elicit a thrilling sense of closeness, of a staggering danger in the waves. But at the center of the clouds there is also a white light like hope, and the men below—sailors turned rescuers—drive their dinghies to a battered wreck painted only in part at the bottom frame; two in the closest vessel pull a drowning man to safety. Only a steamship, painted against the darkest clouds in the background, seems unbothered by the tempest—perhaps as a nod to the superior strength of steam power made possible by the Industrial era in which Knell lived and observed. A few seagulls, illustrated with gentle swooping strokes, appear to ride the storm winds over the waves.
An artful and masculine addition to any home library or office, Knell’s “The Storm” would perhaps be best admired in complement of his sons’ work. Two oil paintings attributed to William Calcott Knell and a signed oil on board by Adolphus Knell are also available for sale.
Dimensions with frame: H= 39 in., W= 60 in., D=2 in. , 25 lbs.
Dimensions of canvas only: H= 54 in. W= 33 in.