HMS LION: "Bringing in the Wounded LION"

W L Wyllie (1851-1931). Watercolour signed and dated W L Wyllie (lower left).

Bringing in the Wounded LION

8 3/4 x 4 ins (10 x 22 cms) approx

Price on application

This original has been sold and is no longer available.

There are few more iconic paintings from the Great War at sea than William Wyllie's celebrated watercolour 'Bringing in the Wounded LION' which was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1915.  The watercolour featured here was offered for sale by the Lowndes Lodge Gallery of 27 Lowndes Street, London SW1 in 1970 and has now re-surfaced. It depicts the battle cruiser HMS LION (Captain A E M Chatfield CVO) wearing the flag of Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty KCB MVO DSO under tow by a fellow battle cruiser,   HMS INDOMITABLE (Captain F W Kennedy), after the former ship had been heavily damaged at the Battle of Dogger Bank on the 24 January 1915.  

Attended by a large number of escorting destroyers the pair arrived in the Forth at dawn on 26th January where dockyard tugs took over the tow and gently manoeuvred LION into the basin and then dry dock.

In a letter dated 9 December 1970 to the Lowndes Gallery, the Imperial War Museum had this to say about the painting "WL Wyllie RA painted the scene for the book 'More Sea Fights of the Great War' which was published by Cassell and Company in 1918. However [despite the fact that the painting had been exhibited at the RA in 1915], morale and security reasons held the illustration over until the sequel 'More Sea Fights of the Great War' which was published in 1919. Mr Wyllie's finished painting can be seen opposite page 36 in this latter book.  The picture you have appears to be a preparatory watercolour sketch done on the spot. There are some differences in detail, layout and treatment......"  Indeed there are differences in detail which are noticable only by close comparison between the two versions but a watercolour 'done on the spot' was an unusual bonus in the war years when the censor and tight security so often prohibited artists from being allowed access to operational events such as this.  This watercolour appears to show more attendant dockyard craft fussing around LION; and in the final version the battle cruiser is fractionally more down by the stern: but these are small points of detail and clearly Mr Wyllie considered his preparatory version complete enough in its own right as a watercolour, and accordingly signed it- not something he generally did with a mere 'sketch'.  The final result of Wyllie's work, a large oil on canvas, is at present (March 2017) hanging in the entrance to the Jutland Exhibition being staged in HM Naval Base, Portsmouth: its over to the left of the entrance door opposite reception and is a magnificent sight!   

In Wyllie's own words from 'More Sea Fights of the Great War (pages 35 ad 36): "The ship was taken in tow by INDOMITABLE and brought slowly back to the Forth.  Sixty destroyers rushed up and down to protect the wounded LION from submarine attack.....  When LION at last arrived off Rosyth the repair ship ASSISTANCE was sent in haste from Scapa Flow and with all available  salvage vessels was berthed alongside.....LION still had a heavy list to port and it was necessary to improvise repairs on the spot....Two coffer dams to fit the ship's side were constructed.....  Not only was the heavy armour pierced, but several of the adjacent plates had been displaced, broken and cracked.  No attempt at straightening was possible, so that it was decided to insert timber struts and plug the holes; then the coffer dams were removed, after which the ship steamed away to Newcastle at twenty knots. A wonderful nine days' work".

This is an important watercolour of the war at sea, 1914-18.