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Dominic Serres the Elder RA (1719 - 1793)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

The marine painter Dominic Serres was born in Auch in the south-west of France. He was probably born in 1719, although there is some uncertainty, with some sources suggesting 1722 as the year of his birth. However the strongest evidence, including family records, support the use of the earlier date.

Serres ran away from the Benedictine school at Douai, where he was training for the priesthood, first travelling to Spain on foot and then boarding a ship for South America. Serres eventually became master of a trading vessel to Havana, Cuba, where he was taken prisoner by a British frigate and brought to England.

In England Serres was imprisoned for a time, before living in Northamptonshire and settling in London, where he married in 1749. Little is known of Serres’ training and early work but his profession was given as that of a painter on his marriage register. In England Serres was influenced by the work of leading marine artist Charles Brooking and was well-placed to take advantage of the vogue for naval pictures during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). Serres painted important naval battles, often worked up from sketches by Richard Short, a purser in the Navy and a skilled topographical artist. The Capture of Havana in 1762 was the subject for a series of eleven paintings, all now in the National Maritime Museum. Much of his patronage came from naval commanders such as Augustus Keppel and Augustus John Hervey.

Serres continued to paint battles from the Seven Years’ War long after it ended, but also took up new subjects: in 1773 he received a royal commission to produce a set of paintings depicting George III’s visit to inspect the British fleet at Spithead that year. Serres was later appointed Marine Painter to George III, a position in which he was succeeded by his son John Thomas Serres. The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) also provided Serres with new material such as the Great Siege of Gibraltar and the Battle of the Saints, and brought new patrons including Hyde Parker and Samuel Barrington.

During the 1760s Serres exhibited with the Free Society of Artists and the Incorporated Society of Artists, and in 1768 he was the only marine painter amongst the Founder Members of the Royal Academy. His illustrious patrons and friendship with the influential artist brothers Paul and Thomas Sandby may have assisted in this respect. Serres was a prolific exhibitor up to the time of his death: between 1761 and 1793 he exhibited eight works at the Society of Artists, twenty-one at the Free Society, and 105 at the Royal Academy.

His final appointment was a librarian to the Royal Academy, a position in which he succeeded the sculptor Joseph Wilton in 1792 (Serres spoke several languages so was well-qualified for the job). He died of cancer in 1793 and was buried at St Mary’s church in Paddington.


Royal Academician

Foundation Member

Born: 1719 in ?, near Auch, Gascony, France

Died: 6 November 1793

Nationality: British, French

Elected RA: 10 December 1768

Librarian: 27 March 1792 - 6 November 1793

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Dominic Serres in the RA Collection

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Works after Dominic Serres in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Dominic Serres in the RA Collection

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Associated archives

7 results