Battle of Jutland era: a Queen Elizabeth Class battleship

Alma Claude Burlton Cull (1880-1931). Original watercolour signed and dated "19".

Queen Elizabeth Class dreadnought 1919

18 x 11 1/4 ins (45.7 x 28.5 cms) approx

Price on application

This original has been sold and is no longer available.

Provenance: from the estate of Edward Richard Assheton Penn Curzon, 6th Earl Howe

Its not possible to be absolutely certain of the identity of this Queen Elizabeth class battleship although there are some very definite indicators that its HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH herself. 

Possibly the best clue of all lies in the picture’s provenance: it, together with Cull's 'The Grand Fleet at Sea' (also available as an original watercolour from Maritime Originals' gallery) comes from the Howe family, this one from the estate of the 6th Earl Howe who died in 1984, his widow giving the painting to old family friends shortly after her husband’s death.  The 5th Lord Howe, in accordance with very long established family tradition dating back centuries, had served his monarch at sea and as Lieutenant Viscount Curzon RNVR he had been appointed to HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH in World War 1.  Having  a picture painted of his old ship by one of the leading marine artists of the day would be very understandable and that is another reason to suggest that this is indeed Viscount Curzon's  QUEEN ELIZABETH, its provenance, inherited through family descent by the 6th Earl Howe, being logical.  So far so good!

Cull has dated his watercolour “19” and that is entirely in keeping with the details in the scene painted, as it wasn’t until 1918 that the class was fitted with aircraft flying off platforms on B and X main 15” turrets – the platform on B turret being clearly visible here, topped with a Sopwith aircraft.  The rigs of both foremast and mainmast in the painting are also consistent with this being QUEEN ELIZABETH: she was the first of the class to have her foretop enlarged in 1919 – just as seen here .  QE too was the only one of the class to retain the fore topmast and main topmast in those immediate post war years, possibly for the simple reason that she was always the Grand Fleet/Atlantic Fleet flagship and a C-in-C, of course,   requires a tallish and uncluttered mainmast on which to hoist his flag.  Both top masts are clearly painted here by Cull

And so everything points to this being QUEEN ELIZABETH except for one glaring and curious  inconsistency.  From the day Sir David Beatty hoisted his flag in her on succeeding to the appointment of Commander-in-Chief Grand Fleet in November 1916 until early April 1919 she wore at the main topmast the George Cross of a full admiral: and then for 4 historic days she flew the Union Flag of an admiral of the fleet, to which rank Beatty had been appointed on 3rd April 1919.  This flag was struck on 7th April when he came ashore and it was replaced by the George Cross of Admiral Sir Charles Madden Bt, Beatty’s successor, when he hoisted his flag in the battleship on 8th April bringing with him as commanding officer and his flag captain, Captain The Hon Matthew Best.  QE remained a flagship for some further 6 years.  And so it does seem curious that Cull – who was a stickler for detail and flag etiquette – has, in a painting dated 1919, omitted the opportunity to add either the flag of arguably the best known British admiral of World War 1 and with it the opportunity to paint a most rare sight – QUEEN ELIZABETH flying the Union Flag from the main; or even the George Cross of the new Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Madden!

Be that as it may, Cull has come up with a beautiful watercolour with a lurid – but not untypical - dawn/dusk sky and a sea that measures up to his usual high standard.  QUEEN ELIZABETH herself - for it is surely her - is also impeccably executed by this talented artist.  Living at Lee on Solent near Portsmouth naval base  Cull, its true, was indeed well placed to paint the important naval vessels of the day but he certainly made the best use of his location: his draftmanship is invariably spot on and his ability to create delicate colour harmonies  whilst effortlessly conveying the power of the ships he recorded, is beyond reproach.    Although he painted in oil and watercolour, his oils are even rarer than the watercolours - all were bombed in 1940 but only very few oils indeed still survive: the NMM at Greenwich has two and several others are known to be in private ownership.  He exhibited at the Royal Academy and leading galleries and he was commissioned by both King Edward VII, and The Prince of Wales in the 1920s.