A set of eight oils depicting the construction to destruction of SS Heathpool by John Todd – £3400 at Reeman Dansie.

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When Captain John Todd set out to paint the life of his new ship, he envisaged a fate quite different from the one that would play out.

In a series of naïve oils consigned to Reeman Dansie (20% buyer’s premium), Todd illustrated the various stages of the SS Heathpool, a British cargo ship built in 1885.

Each 13in (33cm) square canvas illustrates a stage: the excavation of the dock prior to construction, the making of the steel parts for the hull, stoking up the furnaces to fit the hull, the launch, fitting out, under sail and finally her demise.

But instead of breaking up on a shore as Todd had painted, the ship collided with the SS Ethelhilda, near Beachy Head on the night of March 31, 1899. Both ship and captain sank.

Naïve quality

“These oils were fascinating and had a wonderfully naïve quality to them,” said Reeman Dansie picture specialist Jonathan Benson. “It is quite unusual to find such works in this form – a complete set painted by the ship’s captain. Normally captains would pay other people to paint their ships, like those Italian harbour scenes by Antonio De Simone for example.”

An article at the time described Todd as “a well-known genial son of the sea, passionately fond of his profession” and “a man of literary and artistic tastes” who painted “passable pictures” and had the panels of his cabin artistically painted.

He was also a published author, having written Whistle Code for use in steamers during fog and in the dark in 1891.

The group, which included a copy of his book, was consigned from a local source. Estimated at £800-1200 in the August 2 sale, it attracted several phone bidders before selling at £3400 to the trade for a private collection.