Royal Yachts off Cowes, 1909

. Watercolour heightened with white, signed and dated 1909 (LR) and annotated in the artist's hand "The Approach to Cowes I.W." (LR).

Royal Yachts off Cowes, 1909

6 x 17 ins (15.5 x 43 cm,s) approx

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The early years of the twentieth century invariably saw one or sometimes two Royal Yachts lying to their buoys at Cowes for the week or so that marked the great sailing festival of Cowes Week that took place in late July/early August of each year.  1909 however, the year this watercolour is dated by Frank Watson Wood, saw three such yachts, HMY VICTORIA & ALBERT and HMY ALEXANDRA and the Imperial Russian Yacht, STANDART.  VICTORIA & ALBERT was wearing the standard of His Majesty King Edward Vll, STANDART the standard of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia.

The King and his cousin, the Tsar, enjoyed a friendly relationship and so it was that at the invitation of King Edward, the Tsar brought his STANDART to Cowes in July 1909; onboard also was the Empress of Russia, Tsarina Alexandra.  Frank Wood painted a large watercolour (9 x 30 inches) of the scene from the viewpoint of somewhere a little further west than this watercolour, possibly the roof of The Castle, home of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and that one showed STANDART too.  It was inscribed on its mount "In remembrance of our last Cowes, August 1909.  From Alexandra".  The watercolour was duly presented by the King's widow to Captain Colin Keppel, Captain of VICTORIA & ALBERT and it was passed by direct family descent to the owner in 2000 who offered it that year for auction at Bonhams where it was knocked down for £6,200.   

This watercolour -  painted that same year though showing Cowes from further east and looking towards a westering evening sun - illustrates only two Royal Yachts and one guardship, a brand new dreadnought of the Bellerophon class who is lying to the north of Castle Ledge, over to the right of the painting.  On the top edge on the back of this watercolour is a tantalising glimpse of a pencilled inscription that has been sliced in two by a framer! However - and with difficulty -  one can make out (over to the right) "BELLEROPHON" and in the centre, "Royal Yachts VICTORIA & ALBERT and ALEXANDRA".  The third Yacht of that 1909 Cowes Week, STANDART, is not shown by Wood so has either not yet arrived or has flown the nest, her part in the ceremonies over.  The Russian battleship that had escorted STANDART over to Cowes and was evident in the big Frank Wood described earlier, has, of course, also departed with STANDART.

This is a beautiful little watercolour with a fascinating history.