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Portsdown Hill, 1778 by Dominic Serres

This view from the cliffs at Portsdown Hill shows Portsmouth in the period before industrialisation and before the construction of Palmerston's forts during the 19th century. In the foreground some figures appear to be enjoying the view over the harbour where a number of ships are at anchor and others under sail. The overwhelming impression is still of an unspoilt rural landscape.

Serres was born in Gascony, probably in 1719, and was destined by his parents for the Church. Little more is known of his early life, although he appears never to have followed a religious vocation, travelling at first to Spain and then following a career at sea.

Serres is known to have risen to the rank of ship's captain and to have spent time in Cuba, but was taken prisoner by the British during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and eventually settled in London. From that time on his life changed; he became a pupil of the marine artist Charles Brooking, married and became a well known member of the French émigré community.

In 1768 Serres became a founder member of the Royal Academy in London, and was later appointed Librarian. He continued to paint, specialising in naval and maritime scenes for which his early life had particularly prepared him, and in 1780 was appointed Maritime Painter to King George III. He died in 1793.

Oils on canvas

Purchased with the assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund