Bermudan Painters Johnson and Arthur Savage

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In “A palette off the old block,” Edward Cecil Harris (Director of the National Museum) writes about Bermuda painters Arthur Savage (see painting below) and his father Dr. Johnson Savage (see painting above), who recorded some of the island’s historical landmarks. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:

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[Under a lowering sky, Arthur Savage painted the great Bermuda forts of Victoria (on the hill) and St Catherine on the shoreline, either in 1862 or 1863. The latter fort in particular guarded the Mouth of the Narrows (as the painting is titled) where that ships’ channel turns from the approach from the open sea into Murray’s Anchorage and the other safe harbours within the north and eastern reefs of Bermuda.]

In this centenary year of the beginning of the Great War (1914—18), we are reminded of the name of the warship HMS Aboukir, for it was on the demise of that vessel that William Edmund Smith was the first Bermudian to be lost in that conflict. Ultimately, some eighty Bermudians were killed in service overseas during what would later be named the First World War. [. . .] Johnson Savage MD was a surgeon with that Corps of the British Army and spent three years at Bermuda, 1833—36, during which time he painted a remarkable series of watercolours, which his great great grandchildren recently donated to the National Museum at the old Royal Naval Dockyard.

As it transpires, Savage the son also painted at Bermuda and his work is contained in the logbook he was required to keep as a Naval Cadet, later Midshipman, a document that has been scanned for the record at the National Museum, through the kindness of his great grand-nephew, Peter Savage. Sadly, Midshipman Savage lived only into his twentieth year, dying in England on 7 September 1866 of an illness of the lungs. His father, the doctor and artist, made a watercolour of his grave, which bore the inscription, “Sacred to the loved memory of Arthur Savage Midshipman Royal Navy second son of Johnson Savage MD Dep Ins Gen of Hospitals”: the grave has yet to be located, although a castle appears in the background of the painting, which might eventually help to find it.

Arthur Savage served on five Royal Navy ships during the period of his connection with Bermuda, as follows: HMS Aboukir (29 December 1861—25 August 1862), in which he sailed to Bermuda via Tenerife and later from the Island to Halifax, Nova Scotia and thence to Port Royal, Jamaica.

[. . .] Arthur Savage’s Bermuda paintings are four in number, one of which is a hand-drawn chart of the Island. One is entitled Mouth of the Narrows and illustrates that passage off St Catherine’s Point, which controlled the access to the Narrows and the dockyard beyond, the Narrows being the only ships’ channel through the Bermuda reefs. High on the hill above Fort St Catherine stands the ‘citadel’ of the defences of St George’s Island, Fort Victoria, sadly now largely degraded when the site was used for a hotel in the 1960s.

Another is a panorama of the Royal Naval Dockyard at Ireland Island, in which several convict hulks are yet in evidence, although 1862 would be the final year of their use as such prisoner hostels. A last painting is signed A Savage Midn March 1863 and appears to be an illustration of his ship, HMS Pylades, along side the Coal Wharf at Dockyard, with the Commissioner’s House in the background. [. . .]

Arthur Savage’s artistic abilities were cut short by his early death, but one presumes that his father, Johnson Savage MD, may have given the lad some painting instructions as a child and young adult. His paintings, while showing promise, did not have the opportunity to achieve the brilliance of those of his father, but given time, who is to say that Bermuda might have been graced with another Savage collection of watercolours of the first order, reflecting the later decades of the nineteenth century?

For Johnson Savage’s painting and more information on Bermudian artists, see http://www.bermuda-online.org/forart.htm

For full article and painting by Arthur Savage, see http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20140712/ISLAND/140719916

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