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Derek Gardner was born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire in 1914.

Gardner is widely considered to be the leading British maritime painter of the 20th century. Entirely self-taught, he became a master of his art with an unmatched skill for conveying the colour, luminosity and atmosphere of the maritime setting, as well as the drama and the movement of the wind and sea. His particular passion was to paint the fast, sleek, square-rigged ships of the 19th century. From a young age he had a keen interest in Nelson, and painted many scenes devoted to his battles and featuring ships. He committed to many hours of painstaking research and preparation in order to portray battle scenes and vessels with the greatest accuracy and level of detail.

Gardner’s own life and upbringing was closely linked to the sea: his father was the Chief Engineer of the Clyde Trust and the Port of Glasgow, and he himself joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a midshipman in 1934. During the World War II, he served on armed trawlers and destroyers in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. He was mentioned in despatches for distinguished service and left in 1948 with the rank of Commander.

In 1988 the Royal Society of Marine Artists elected Gardner as their honorary vice-president for life. A further notable recognition for his accomplishments came in 2005 when, as part of celebration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, an exhibition of his work featuring a painting of every ship in which Nelson served was staged in London. His work is included in several marine art texts and held in public collections including the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

His total mastery of both subject and the technique of marine painting places Gardner at the very top of 20th Century painters.

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