Robert Salmon’s View of Algiers

As told by Robert C. Vose, Jr. (1911-1998)

Robert Salmon (1775-1851), View of Algiers, 1828
Collection of the New Britain Museum of American Art
Photo: Hanging in Vose Galleries

In 1967, Ann and Bob Vose (Robert C. Vose, Jr.) visited the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, to view a painting exhibition featuring the works of Robert Salmon, Boston’s premier ship painter during the second quarter of the 19th century. As they admired an enormous rendering of The British Fleet Forming a Line Off Algiers, 1829 (loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Ann exclaimed, “Remember that huge grubby old mural rolled up in the gallery attic? It must be a companion painting to this one!” After returning to the gallery they slowly unrolled the dusty canvas and there was no doubt: this painting, measuring 5 feet by 15 feet, was a view of Algiers and done by the same hand.

Subsequent research has revealed that shortly after he arrived in Boston from England in 1828, Robert Salmon painted three murals as part of a public panorama. The first painting shows a view of Algiers in 1816 prior to bombardment by the British and Dutch fleets; the second shows the fleets preparing to attack; and the third shows the destruction of Algiers. Because Algiers had long been a center for piracy, the exhibit met with great public interest and most likely provided a good source of income for the artist. After its authentication, Robert Salmon’s View of Algiers found an enthusiastic home at the New Britain Museum of American Art, and one of America’s earliest treasures was saved from its ignoble bed amidst the cobwebs and mothballs.

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