Forever England - HISTORIC POSTER

Forever England - HISTORIC POSTER

Poster. 778mm wide x 610 mm (approx). Reproduction

This early 20th Century tourist poster was part of a popular movement to save one of Britain's greatest symbols of triumph against overwhelming odds.

The overwhelming odds were Napoleon Bonaparte's unstoppable armies on the mainland of Europe in the early 19th Century. The symbol of triumph was Horatio Nelson's great flagship, HMS Victory.

Admiral Lord Nelson died on HMS Victory in 1805 when he led the attack at Trafalgar to finally defeat Napoleon's Navy, ending French ambitions to invade Britain.

Nearly wrecked by enemy cannon at Trafalgar, HMS Victory rotted in Portsmouth Harbour for more than 100 years after returning from the battle, too heroic to be scrapped and too old, outdated and expensive to do anything with.

In the wake of the slaughter of World War I a century later, a popular demand sprang up to save HMS Victory as a national icon.

One of the leaders of the movement was the great Portsmouth marine artist, William Wyllie RA, then nearing the end of his life.

Emblazoning this poster with Horatio Nelson's famous flag signal "England expects every man to do his duty", Wyllie called the nation to "Come to Southsea and Board the Old Ship" and pay homage to this reminder of earlier heroes.

Visitors from London would, of course, have boarded their trains just across the River Thames from the great statue of Nelson atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

The poster shows HMS Victory in the dry dock to which she was moved in 1920, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of one of the world's great naval dockyards.

Today HMS Victory remains in the same dry dock in the same naval base, now also a historic dockyard. The great ship looks out over the giant aircraft carriers of the modern Royal Navy which frequently berth a few yards away, much loved as one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions.

HMS Victory also symbolically remains a serving warship in the Royal Navy and is the flagship of Britain's Second Sea Lord.

Wyllie was born in London in 1851 and became famous and successful through painting maritime scenes in both oil and watercolour, many of which he published as editions of etchings. Wyllie himself created the etchings from his own pictures.

His name spread, along with that of Charles Dixon, when he worked as an illustrator in the late Victorian era for the popular illustrated tabloids, The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.

Wyllie lived in Portsmouth for many years in the early 20th Century in the iconic Tower House, washed by the waters of the very entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. His massive Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar was completed in a race against his failing eyesight and old age. It is on view (as is one of these posters) in the Royal Naval Museum a few yards from HMS Victory in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

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