Pierhead painters

"Pierhead painters" is the term given to the usually self-taught artists who specialised in painting portraits of ships for the seamen who manned them. The artists often sought commissions from the ships that visited their own port, and often had to finish their paintings quickly before the vessel departed. They had to comply with the expectations of their clientele, so ships are almost universally painted from a broadside view, with all sails set. The portraits are exact and technically accurate, and often you can compare a painting to a photograph of the same ship and be surprised at the similarity. The artists usually did add one or two extravagant touches, such as a pennant flying from the mainmast bearing the ship's name, or a Red Ensign flying perfectly in a direction contrary to the wind.

Joseph Semple (sometimes Sempill)

Lord Muncaster

The Fine Art Emporium states that Semple lived and worked in Belfast and was active c.1861-1878. He produced oil paintings on canvas or board, mainly portraits of British and Irish sailing vessels. They mention several examples of his work, including a portrait of the Carrie Bell, Captain Hugh Reason, dated 1871.

Semple also produced a painting of the Tom Roper (a different painting to that shown in colour on this site, which is unsigned and undated). The Semple painting is dated 1867, signed J.Semple and is incribed "Tom Roper of Barrow, Peter Hodgson master". The ship is shown off the South Stack, Anglesey. The photocopy shown here was sent to me by Mr.A.S.Davison of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and was taken from a catalogue from Omell's Gallery.

The painting of the Coniston on this site is signed "John Sempill". The painting of the Lord Muncaster is simply signed J.S, so possibly could also be the work of Joseph Semple.

William Barrow McIlvenny

The Fine Art Emporium states that McIlvenny was a pierhead painter who lived and worked in Preston, active c.1880-1895. He produced oil paintings on canvas, principally portraits of English schooners. Amongst the examples of his work, they mention a portrait of James Fisher's schooner Ellie Park, dated 1882, now in a private collection in Germany.

There are three examples of McIlvenny's work on this site, the portrait of the Mary Ashburner, dated 1880, and those of the Nellie Bywater and the George B. Balfour.

Reuben Chappell

There are no paintings by Chappell on this site, but he is worth mentioning as he was the most prolific painter of Victorian sailing ships, being credited with over 12,000 paintings. He was born in Goole in 1870 but moved to Par in 1904, and undoubtedley he would have painted some of the Furness schooners that visited the Cornish china clay ports. His active career was from about 1890 to 1930, and he concentrated on schooners and coasting vessels. He did both watercolour and oil paintings. Reportedley he charged 25 to 30 shillings (£1.25 to £1.50) for an oil painting in the 1890's. To put this into perspective, an able seaman would have been paid £3 to £4 per month at this time.