Purchased from the artist by Thomas Pemberton of Heathfield hall, Handsworth;
his sale, Christie’s 30 April 1874 (29), bought J. Watson of Warley Hall, Birmingham;
thence by descent
Eric Adams, Francis Danby: Varieties of Poetic Landscape, New Haven, 1973, mentioned under no 193, p 183, 197
At the Royal Academy in 1848, Francis Danby exhibited his first version of The Evening Gun (now lost). It ‘was the picture,’ said David Roberts, ‘all the painters were talking about it’. It was still more extravagantly praised when it was shown at the Paris International Exhibition in 1855. Théophile Gautier wrote: ‘It is impossible to describe the poetic effect of this scene: there is a calmness, a silence, a solitude which deeply affects the soul. Never has the solemn grandeur of the ocean been better expressed.’ It became the principal work upon which Danby’s reputation rested. Two further versions followed. All the versions differ, and in this fourth and last (painted for his friend the collector Thomas Pemberton, a brass founder), the clouds are denser and the contrasts of tone much stronger. It is moments later than in the other versions, when darkness has advanced, and light is limited to the sky and its reflection in the water. Forms, such as the distant hills or the hulk to the right, are revealed only by the light beyond. Danby observed these effects afresh. The masts, spars and rigging differ substantially in the other versions, but here their special precision and elegance dominate the painting.
Danby delighted in ‘deep toned pictures’, as he called them, although he found them hard to sell. He could not give them up, and wrote to a friend: ‘you know in this I am incurable.’ Danby’s fascination for the effects of the last moments of sunlight and of twilight, moonlight and dawn was not to be denied by market forces. To achieve these rich and sombre tones, this picture has been painted on a bituminous ground in some parts, which has separated, although it is now stable.