An Interesting c.1831 Naïve School Oil on Panel; 'The Shipwreck`d Mariner'


Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1831
Canvas Height: 11 inches
Canvas Width: 13 inches
The Whole: 15.5 X 17.5 inches

The primitive and naive depiction of a shipwrecked mariner with long dark windswept hair, stripey blue and white shawl with red over coat and beige pantaloons sat upon a rocky crag amongst foamy seas and midnight blue sky, the wrecked boat in the background and an albatross circling overhead is presented in its gilded wooden frame with inset border and large hoop hanger.

The painting is titled to verso ‘The Shipwreck`d (sic) Mariner’ and signed I Armstead and dated to 1831 to the front and is presented in un-cleaned and un-restored condition. The overall condition is original with some small damage to include a 1.5 inch crack with a longer but thinner crack above. The year 1831 on the seas saw Charles Darwin embarking on his historic voyage aboard HMS Beagle and Admiral James C Ross reaching the magnetic North Pole.

The mariner has a forlorn look to his face, his hands clasped on his lap, the picture trying to convey his loneliness and despair at being stranded. The large albatross overhead is un-nerving and threatening and the sea is violent and moody with the combination of these elements giving the picture its atmospheric power. We know nothing of the artist but a similar but less able copy of this picture was sold at auction in 2007, the depiction was much less interesting and unsigned but the two are certainly depicted in the same way. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 signaling a shift to modern poetry and the beginning of British Romantic literature. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner relates the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. The Mariner stops a man who is on the way to a wedding ceremony and begins to narrate a story. The Wedding-Guest's reaction turns from bemusement to impatience and fear to fascination as the Mariner's story progresses, as can be seen in the language style: for example, Coleridge uses narrative techniques such as personification and repetition to create either a sense of danger, of the supernatural or of serenity, depending on the mood of each of the different parts of the poem.

The Mariner's tale begins with his ship departing on its journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven south off course by a storm and eventually reaches Antarctica. An albatross appears and leads them out of the Antarctic but, even as the albatross is praised by the ship's crew, the Mariner shoots the bird ("with my cross-bow / I shot the albatross"). The crew is angry with the Mariner, believing the albatross brought the south wind that led them out of the Antarctic. However, the sailors change their minds when the weather becomes warmer and the mist disappears ("'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay / that bring the fog and mist"). However, they made a grave mistake in supporting this crime as it arouses the wrath of spirits who then pursue the ship "from the land of mist and snow"; the south wind that had initially led them from the land of ice now sends the ship into uncharted waters, where it is becalmed. The poem on the surface explores violation of nature and its resulting psychological effects on the Mariner, who interprets the fates of his crew to be a direct result of his having shot down an albatross. This picture coveys those emotions, and it has been suggested that the Ancient Mariner is an autobiographical portrait of Coleridge himself, comparing the Mariner's loneliness with Coleridge's own feelings of loneliness expressed in his letters and journals.

This is an extremely intriguing picture, which appeals on many levels but most of all to those with seafaring roots or a love for the romantic deep.