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NAPOLEONIC PRISONER-of-WAR (1793 - 1815)

“The French Connection”  Napoleonic Era Prisoner-of-War Ship Models  1793 – 1815

The war between Napoleon’s French navy and the naval forces of King George III of England lasted so long that the captured French prisoners had to find resourceful ways to spend their imprisonment, sometimes lasting more than eleven years.

Though not treated like convicts, they were confined to the likes of prison hulks in naval dockyards, old castles, outdated fortresses, or purpose built prison camps such as Norman Cross or Dartmoor. On the encouragement of their captors, they formed their own quasi-artisan guilds to produce small objets d’art to sell in the camp’s periodic civilian open market. Many of these imprisoned sailors came from specialized artistic vocations sponsored by Napoleon, e.g. ivory carvers, tapestry weavers, gold or silver smiths, fine furniture & cabinet makers, etc.

One of the most popular objects sought by the English were the alluring ship models they created mostly representing, in a stylized form, British naval ships of the era. These were constructed from recycled cattle bone, boxwood, whale baleen, or sometimes from more exotic materials supplied by the local citizenry, e.g., silk, gold or silver foil, ivory, tortoise shell, etc. The fine carving work and symmetric hull and deck planking exhibited on these models was remarkable, as well as the authenticity of their delicate linen or silk rigging. It is interesting to note, that a small percentage of their models actually had mechanical apparatus: make-shift wound springs attached to interior bulwarks gundeck cannons could be retracted inboard by pulling on small lines hanging from the stern or keel of the model.

~ This assemblage of antique works are exquisite examples of this genre. The scope of the collection, from miniature scales to larger sized models, is a unique offering on the variety of ship models produced during this era.

Provenance: Ten models from a Private Collection, Michigan
One model and the Ivory Micro Carving from a Private Collection, New York & Rhode Island.

R. Michael Wall, Director, American Marine Model Gallery ~ 2011 ~

*Please note that when viewing the various models, their individually engraved plaques indicate an approximate date of the vessel given its design configuration and/or number of guns
 

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