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National Maritime Museum, London acquires 9 meter long mural
Curator of Art, Melanie Vandenbrouck, looks at the National Maritime Museum, London’s new acquisition Working Boats from around the British Coast by Alan Sorrell, © National Maritime Museum, London.
LONDON.- Working Boats from around the British Coast by Alan Sorrell, a five panel, nine metre long mural was originally made for the decoration of the Nelson Bar aboard HMS ‘Campania’. This aircraft carrier, converted as a floating display space, toured British ports as a microcosm of the Festival of Britain exhibition on London’s South Bank in 1951. The Festival had been organized to promote British contributions to arts, sciences and industries at a time of post-war austerity and recovery.

Ships and the sea featured largely in the Festival, not only because of their aesthetic appeal, and the role they played in the economy, but also because they symbolized a romantic, timeless sense of Britishness. Alan Sorrell’s mural celebrates the fishing communities along the coast of Britain in charming individual scenes, separated by a decorative device of ropes held aloft by seagulls. Aboard small coastal craft, fishermen are seen in the company of cats, dogs, sheep and cows, conversing or at work. A shark, tagged ‘O.H.M.S. Please return to the Indian Ocean’ drinks tea, while, at each end of the composition, sailors peer at each other, surrounded by mermaids. Both the crafts and sea-life are accurate representations.

At the end of the Festival, the mural was selected by Sir Frederick Gibbert (architect and planner of Harlow New Town and closely involved with the Festival of Britain) as a gift to Harlow.

The mural formed part of the exhibition ‘A Tonic to the Nation: The Festival of Britain’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1976. Under the care of the Harlow Art Trust, it was displayed in the town’s Moot Hall, but eventually disappeared from view until it was acquired by the National Maritime Museum in 2014.

The painting is on display from today in the Sammy Ofer Wing at the National Maritime Museum.





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