Wednesday, December 2, 2015

1918 Artist's Study for "The Return of the Mayflower" by Bernard Gribble

Artist’s Study of The Return of the Mayflower by Gribble
By Diana Gordon
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Recently, our collection gained a preliminary study of The Return of the Mayflower by Bernard F. Gribble. This famous painting 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. Gribble created several different studies of The Return of the Mayflower before he finished the final piece. In art, studies are often done in preparation for the final product and are used to understand problems of the different elements of a piece, such as light, form, and composition.

In comparison to the final rendition of The Return of the Mayflower, the study offers a different perspective, one of less urgency and hope. The composition of this work is the exact opposite of the finalized piece. For instance, the British fisherman’s boat is located on the right hand side of the canvas instead of the left-as found in The Return of the Mayflower. Having the fisherman’s boat located on the right shifts the viewer’s eye to that corner and away from the United States destroyer steaming straight ahead, moving away from these signs of hope. In addition, the local fishermen waving to the Navy ships seem less urgent in their desire to see these signs of hope. The fishermen, each outlined and defined, seem to be casually waving to the ships as they approach. Gribble even added a dog to the fisherman’s boat, which removes some of the serious tones of the piece. In the final masterpiece, Gribble shows the fisherman less defined and more chaotic in their movements, as though they would do anything to see a glimmer of hope and salvation in their world of despair.
Final rendition of The Return of the Mayflower, by Gribble
 As many artists often do, Gribble created different studies of his final work with slightly different compositions. A master in oils and watercolors, Gribble stayed true to his skill and continued with darker color tones and dramatic atmospheres in his study of The Return of the Mayflower, but the piece lacked the strong sense of urgency and hope displayed in his final rendition.

This piece is a valuable new addition to our collection. Come by and see it today!


jmdeur said...

Just out of curiosity, what are the sight dimensions of this painting (i.e., the dimension of the painting itself, not the frame)? Thanks.

J. M. Deur

Elijah Palmer said...

Mr. Deur,
Please send an email to and we'll try to get you some more information.