This shows an incident during the War of Spanish Succession, 1702–1714. After the British capture of Gibraltar in 1704, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and his joint commander-in-chief, the Earl of Peterborough, took Barcelona in August 1705 on behalf of the Hapsburg contender for the Spanish throne, King Charles. The French, who supported the Bourbon claimant to the Spanish crown subsequently laid siege to Barcelona, the principal Mediterranean seaport in Spain, by land and sea. In March 1706 King Charles sent an urgent plea for help to Admiral Sir John Leake, then at Gibraltar. The Comte de Toulouse, whose French fleet was blockading Barcelona, heard of Sir John's approach with a superior Anglo-Dutch fleet in time to escape, while the Duke of Anjou was forced to raise the land siege and abandon his artillery train to the Hapsburg forces.
The painting shows an aerial perspective of the Anglo-Dutch fleet in the harbour, with the buildings of the port of Barcelona beyond. The Dutch squadron is visible in the left foreground, with the British fleet in the central foreground flying the red and blue ensigns. A smaller group of English ships are shown in the distance, closer to the city, and the artist has also included the principal topographical features surrounding Barcelona, such as the coastal range of the Collserola hills. The cartouche at the top centre of the painting, ornately decorated with seashells and coral in a late-baroque style, is a characteristic Vale motif. It bears the inscription: 'Barcelona Releiv'd by Sir John Leake Vice Admirall of the White and Commander in Chief of ye Confederate Fleet April ye 27th Anno 1706'. There is very little documentary information about the artist. But it is known that he was working in England in the style of van de Velde and Sailmaker between 1705 and 1730. The artist produced three other painting on the same subject. Signed 'H Vale'.
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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