Louis Philippe Crepin's tense conflagration in paint, Battle of Trafalgar 1805, is a remarkable and enduring image of the Napoleonic Wars wherein the British and French naval fleets engaged in immense battles on the highs seas. This historical reproduction of the great battle features the French ship the Redoubtable, centre-frame, that featured prominently in the battle. Engaged and sharing fire with the HMS Temeraire, the same ship featured in Turner's The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838, the French ship is also caught in the heat of the action with the HMS Victory. During this period of action which the artist commemorates, the great British naval hero Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson was killed.
Captained by a man named Captain Lucas, the Redoubtable was located in the centre of the line of battle of the Franco-Spanish fleet. After exchanging a few waves of cannon fire, the Redoubtable and HMS Victory fought edge-to-edge, hull against hull, before Nelson was killed by musket fire. A French gunner posted on the masthead mortally wounded the British admiral, causing the French crew to begin an embarkation onto the ship, which by that point was on the brink of defeat. It was at this moment that the HMS Temeraire fired cannon balls and grapeshot towards the French ship, seriously injuring Captain Lucas. Beginning to take on water, the Redoubtable surrendered, almost at the point of sinking, the rudder completely in tatters, and all guns shattered and broken. Tragically for this enduring symbol of the terrible battle, the Redoubtable was lost in the storm that followed the fight.
Louis Philippe Crepin's majestical and heart-stopping reproduction of that fateful day bares within it a cynical taste of victory amid the morbid nostalgia of defeat. It is a curious image, but a wonderfully rendered slice of historical imagining.
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