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At Sea during the Sino-French War

There are few clues to the identity of a gifted artist who, in 1884, kept a visual diary of his tour of duty with the French navy during the Sino-French War. His album of unruled pages was purchased in Brest, France's second most significant military port. Dated 4 January, the first entry is a pen-and-ink drawing of Cape St. Vincent in Portugal, from the artist's perspective on board ship; the last is a watercolor of jonques near Palm Island in Keelung,Taiwan. The sailor on the warship cruiser D'Estaing records landmarks of his journey at sea, including the Strait of Gibraltar, the coast of Algeria, Port Said and the Suez Canal, Perim Island, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Amoy.

Ship-view vistas of European and Asian lands convey the detailed observations of the artist. He sketches elevations, architecture, ports, and peoples. Lighthouses on barren rocks in the sea display the beacons for the ships. Snapshot sketches of life on board the cruiser show not only the guns and machines of war but also the cargo, such as a pair of rabbits and a heifer eating hay on deck--animals that will soon become meals for the crew. There are renderings of leisure time on the cruiser, as well as encounters with life from the ocean, including crabs and fish. The war, the purpose of the expedition, becomes more evident, as the ship reaches Hong Kong: images of sailors at work and of fortifications and other warships take over as subject matter.

To see more of the sketchbook by this French sailor, request Ms. Coll.781 in the reading room of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Pencil drawing, 8 March 1884

Pencil drawing of arm signals on the Min River [left]
Watercolor of La Galissonnière at Tamsui, during the bombdardment of the forts, 2 October 1884 [right]


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