THE BOMBARDMENT OF ALGIERS
GLAZED ROLLER-PRINTED COTTON - British, ca. 1816
This commemorative furnishing chintz depicting the British naval Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 attests to the many connections between the thriving printed cotton industry and nationalistic pride, trade and societal changes such as rising consumerism and the demand for novelty.
Mass production of printed cottons in Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century was a key factor in the development of the Industrial Revolution. Within this phenomenon, the introduction of engraved rollers in 1783 was decisive in dramatically speeding up the printing process and simultaneously increasing output and lowering prices. Other innovations, including the use of waterpower for spinning and weaving and chlorine to bleach the cotton, impacted this important domestic industry, centered primarily in Lancashire. Manufacturers offered a wide range of goods to the burgeoning middleand workingclass markets, eager to furnish their interiors in the latest taste. Additionally, these purveyors capitalized on and deliberately spurred the demand for novelty with designs incorporating topical themes, often using published prints as sources of inspiration.
In this example, the monochromatic, densely packed short repeat—typical of roller prints of the period— portrays the height of the battle that took place between British and Algerian forces in late August 1816. The dominance of the British navy and its many victories in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries— particularly with respect to the Napoleonic Wars—were widely celebrated in paintings, sculptures, prints, ceramics, and textiles. In this particular conflict, a British squadron under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Pelligrew arrived in Algiers to secure the release of the British Consul and 1,000 Christian slaves held by the Dey. Following the victory of the British fleet, numerous artists commemorated the dramatic nighttime battle. In 1817, James Jenkins, a London-based publisher, issued a substantial volume of hand-colored aquatints illustrating important British naval engagements between 1793 and 1816. The last print in the series, engraved by Thomas Sutherland (1785–1838) after paintings by a well-known marine artist, Thomas Whitcombe (1752–1824), depicts the Bombardment of Algiers under moonlit skies. While not an exact copy, it is likely that this chintz was inspired by Sutherland’s image as well as other print sources. Warships flying the Union Jack, shell bursts, clouds, lightning bolts, lifeboats with sailors, rippling waves, and the domed buildings of Algiers appear in both Sutherland’s aquatint and the printed cotton. The text accompanying Jenkins’ plate extols “...the magnanimous heroism displayed on this great occasion [that] will forever claim the gratitude and admiration of a generous country.”
Found in New England, this chintz highlights the continued trade between Britain and the young American Republic following the Revolution. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, the American textile industry was still in its early days, and British cottons—plentiful and relatively inexpensive—were in high demand for household furnishings.
A panel of The Bombardment of Algiers is in the collection of The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (ZBA4549).
108” L x 23” W