Clarkson Stanfield

The Abandoned by Clarkson Stanfield. 56. Oil on canvas. 35 x 59 inches. Present location unknown.

The Illustrated London News (1856) on the painting

Of all the pictures in the collection that which we should covet the most, and be inclined to carry about with us—as Sir George Beaumont was wont to carry his little Claude—would be Mr. Clarkson Stanfield's best picture—“The Abandoned” (No. 94, in the Great Boom). Mr. Stanfield professes to have found his subject in Washington Irving’s “Sketch Book.” Here is the passage he has sought to illustrate:—

There was no no trace by which the name of the ship could be ascertained. The wreck bad evidently drifted about for many months: clusters of shellfish had fastened about it, and long seaweeds flaunted at its sides. But where, thought I, is the crew? Their struggle has long been over—they have gone down amidst the roar of the tempest—their bones lie whitening among the caverns of ihe deep. Silence, oblivion, like the waves, have closed over them... and no one can tell the story of their end. What sighs have been wafted after that ship; what prayers offered up at the deserted fireside of home! How often has the mistress, the wife, the mother, pored over the daily news, to catch some casual intelligence of this rover of the deep! How has expectation darkened into anxiety — anxiety into dread — and dread into despair! Alas! not one memento shall ever return for love to cherish. All that shall ever be known is, that she sailed from her port, “and was never heard of more!

Mr. Stanfield has surpassed this fine description. Never was abandonment and desolation more complete! Had Falconer seen this noble picture it would have afforded him soon fresh and striking touches for his “Shipwreck”;—that coming wave, and all is over! [p.514]

From Images of Crisis

The moment of actual shipwreck is not the only form in which the situation of the imperilled mariner appears. There is, first of all, the moment when the sailor realizes that he is lost and can obtain no bearings. Then, after he has drifted hopelessly, there comes the instant his ship crashes upon a rock or is overwhelmed by raging seas; and this is followed by the moment the mariner strikes the water, a swimmer in the waste, cold ocean . Last comes the time when he drags himself ashore only to find himself on a hostile desert island.

This typology, which proceeds by arranging different situations and structures to make up a hypothetical master narrative, can be illustrated by many nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings. Thus, Winslow Homer's Lost on the Crand Banks (1885, John S. Broome Coll.), which portrays several figures in a dory peering anxiously through the gray world surrounding them, exemplifies the first stage, while his Gulf Stream (1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pl. 6) depicts a drifting, damaged vessel about to be destroyed by final disaster, which we see approaching in the form of a waterspout. John Sell Cotman's Dismasted Brig (c. 1823, British Museum) offers another variation on this theme: the painter presents his stricken ship, which has already lost one of its masts, in profile against an enormous iceberg that dwarfs it, and Delacroix's Shipwreck on the Coast (c.1862; see Trapp, 18n), carried a vessel even closer to final disaster, showing it after it has become completely dismasted and nothing more than a drifting hulk — a situation presented with even more power in Clarkson Stanfield's The Abandoned (1856, location unknown). — George P. Landow, Images of Crisis.

[On 5 October 2009 Steve Hopple wrote that "In a Zondervan Published book, Sermon Outlines and Illustrations by Engstrom on page 101 is the following: 'In one of our galleries...' This may be a clue as to its present location. I will add that no gallery is mentioned and there is no credit as to who actually gave the quotation [that I am able to locate]. You may have better success than myself." Thanks, Steve. GPL]


Landow, George P. Images of Crisis: Literary Iconology, 1750 to the Present. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982. Full text.

Trapp, Frank Anderson. The Attainment of Delacroix. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971.

Treble, Rosemary. Great Victorian Pictures, Their Paths to Fame. Catalogue for an Arts Council exhibition. London, 1978. [Page 93 reproduces the painting and provides an anthology of contemporary comments about it.]

Last modified 25 November 2019