Peter the Great at Deptford Dockyard, 1857
Daniel Maclise (1806-1870)
Oil paint on canvas
Purchased for Thomas Holloway, 1883; acc. no.: THC0040
This painting depicts a scene from the life of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia (1672-1725). In his reign, Peter began modernising his country, introducing Western European dress and etiquette to his court, restructuring the army and establishing a navy. In order to undertake his reforms, he looked to other more advanced countries to acquire knowledge of the latest discoveries in science and technology. When it came to creating a modern navy, Peter visited dockyards in both Holland and Britain to learn about ship building from the world’s two leading naval powers.
Peter stands on the left with his foot resting on the timber he has been sawing. He was keen to get as much hands-on experience as possible. When he spent the winter at Deptford, it was reported that he worked as hard as any man in the dockyard. The active figure of the Tsar contrasts to the more passive –looking figure of the English King William of Orange who stands on the right in sombre but luxurious attire.
Irish-born Daniel Maclise gained his reputation as one of Britain’s leading painters after winning contracts to paint many of the frescoes used to decorate the new Houses of Parliament. He specialised in allegorical and history paintings.