We have several paintings in HRNM’s gallery, but one in particular stands out as we approach the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I. The Return of the Mayflower, by Bernard F. Gribble, illustrates Norfolk-based Destroyer Squadron 8 heading into Queenstown, Ireland, in May of 1917—only a month after the United States declared war on Germany. These U.S. destroyers were the first American ships to arrive in Europe. Britain suffered immense shipping losses due to German U-boat attacks, and this convoy helped turn the tide on the battle against underwater warfare. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt commissioned the painting in 1919. In 1933, when Roosevelt became President of the United States, the painting hung in the oval office. Our museum proudly displays a copy of the original piece (the original can be viewed at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland).
Bernard Gribble, a master in oils and watercolors, used darker tones to create a dramatic feeling while filling the canvas with a setting full of crashing waves and eerie clouds. He strategically placed a local British fisherman’s boat on the left side, full of darker shadows, expressing Britain’s despair and turmoil over the war. The fisherman’s boat fills the left side of the canvas, leading the viewer’s eye toward the center, where a United States destroyer steams straight ahead. This particular destroyer is USS Porter (DD 59), which was one of the six destroyers that was part of the mission; the rest include USS Wadsworth (DD 60), USS Conyngham (DD 58), USS McDougal (DD 54), and USS Wainwright (DD 62). The American destroyers are highlighted by sunlight peering through the parting clouds, emphasizing these ships as signs of hope. This dramatic painting not only displays the artist’s knowledge and skill in oil work, but also shows the power and hope the United States Navy provided worldwide.
(This blog post was written by HRNM Educator Diana Gordon.)