A half-length portrait to the left seated, wearing a brown coat and yellow waistcoat. His right hand rests on a table holding a quill beyond which is a standard Earnshaw-type chronometer and he faces forwards to meet the gaze of the viewer.
Thomas Earnshaw was a watchmaker who improved and simplified the pioneering chronometer designs of John Harrison (1693–1776) and John Arnold (1736–1799), and who could be described as the father of the modern chronometer. He devised the spring detent chronometer escapement and his own form of temperature-compensated chronometer balance in 1782, and was the first to make chronometers that were simple and cheap enough to make them viable instruments of navigation. It was his design of chronometer which would eventually be employed in the ships of virtually every navy of the world. Earnshaw was awarded £3,000 by the Board of Longitude in 1805, his chronometers then being described in a publication by the Commissioners of Longitude in 1806. Dissatisfied with his award, Earnshaw wrote a long and detailed account of his claim to larger award in his ‘Longitude, An Appeal to the Public…’ in 1808. The original painting (now in the Science Museum) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798, and this version, which has the quill pen added, was almost certainly made after the publication of the ‘Appeal’.
Shee was born in Dublin and studied at the Royal Dublin Society. He settled in London in 1788 and his working life spanned the Regency and early Victorian periods. His early work, of which this is an example, shows a strong debt to John Hoppner and Sir Thomas Lawrence. He succeeded Lawrence as President of the Royal Academy in 1830.
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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