Pirate Paintings for National Geographic Pt. 8

Gregory Manchess

This ends the series of pieces for REAL Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship. These two portraits were finished earlier in the deadline rush than the last painting of the dock scene. The first portrait is of John Julian, about sixteen years old when he joined the pirate crew as pilot, valued for his navigational skills.

The child is John King, a most unpleasant little guy. When he and his mother were captured by Black Sam Bellamy, he threatened to kill himself if his mother did not let him join the pirates. She refused.

Apparently, his relationship with his mother was a bit strained as he then threatened to kill her. So, she let him go. Smart mother. Perhaps it was about time to cut the little snot loose.

The client wanted to depict King with a bit of an attitude, so I gave him the up-thrust chin, and they liked the dirt on his scruffy face. We all figured that kids would love to see a real child-pirate, living the dream, however cruel and dangerous it was in those days. There were plenty of young boys who went to sea back then, so it probably wasn’t such a bad deal for him.

Except that a couple of masts and who knows how many cannon crushed the poor brat into the sand when the ship went down in an April storm off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. Amazingly, the divers found one of his shoes, with the sock and part of his leg bone still in it. Those are on view in the exhibition.

I didn’t do a lot of explorative sketching for these two. I looked up reference for faces and bodies, using myself as a stand-in for Julian, and cobbled it all together. Below the sketches are the sequential shots of building the paintings.