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Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971)

Britannia passing the East Lepe buoy, Solent, 1921 Signed and dated 1921

Oil on canvas | 153.1 x 203.3 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407111

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  • Britannia healing over to starboard in a squall, passing the East Lepe buoy, in centre foreground; King George V at the helm; further yachts and the raised coastline of the Isle of Wight in the background.

    Norman Wilkinson succeeded as Honorary Marine Painter to the Royal Yacht Squadron in August 1919, following the death of Napier Hemy (1841-1917). According to Wilkinson's autobiography, 'A Brush with Life', in 1921 the artist attended the whole of Cowes week; the King was present from late July up to 9 August. It was a week of wild weather and Wilkinson recounts how he spent a day following the big cutters in a steam yacht and watched Britannia laid down, her decks filling with water, as a heavy squall came off the Hampshire coast. The author, B Heckstall-Smith, who was writing a book on the history of yachts, recalled; 'this picture records a very remarkable occasion for I well remember as she gybed the King had ½ an inch of freeboard at the top of his sea boots so much water was there on the deck."

    Wilkinson commenced work once back at his London studio, from sketches he had made. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year, with the title 'HM Yacht "Britannia" rounding Lymington Spit Buoy in a squall'; although it almost certainly depicts the East Lepe Buoy. The painting elicited a good deal of interest and consequently it was suggested that it should be subscribed to by British yachtsmen and presented to the King. Thus, it was presented to King George V on board the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert III at Cowes on 4 August 1923. Apparently, the King asked Wilkinson to move the position of the buoy as it may have put him in a bad light for not rounding the buoy close enough.

    HMY Britannia; was commissioned by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII in 1892 from the Scottish designer George Lennox Watson (1851-1904). She was originally designed as a day racer for sailing around buoys, she was cutter-rigged, 122ft long and required a crew of thirty to sail her. She was raced by both King Edward VII and King George V many times. Between 1893 and 1935 Britannia competed in 569 races and won 231 first prizes, among many other prizes. After the King's death in January 1936 and in deference to his wishes, she was scuttled in the Channel.

    The Royal Collection holds numerous paintings by Eduardo de Martino of Britannia racing during the 1890s, with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, at the helm (see RCINs 402078, 402344, 451336). See also William Wyllie, 'Britannia Wins', 1893 (RCIN 402381).

    The painting has been on long-term loan to the Royal Yacht Sqaudron, Cowes since 1984.

    Presented to King George V, by a syndicate of yachtsmen, at Cowes on 4 August 1923

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    153.1 x 203.3 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    H.M. Yacht "Britannia" rounding Lymington Spit Buoy in a squall {RA 1922 title}