Excellent color and a depiction of several uniformed sailors with guests onboard a large, fast-moving schooner yacht on the open Atlantic Ocean outside of New York is the heart of this work by New York artist Thomas Willis. While a New York Yacht Club burgee at the foremast top and the American Yachting Ensign with the star-circled anchor are easily identified, the Blue Double-Swallowtail with a gold cross owner’s pennant has yet to reveal the specific identity of the yacht and her owner(s).
Willis worked on direct commissions and undoubtedly knew this vessel. Nice tight detail in the rig and hull of the yacht, with its silk sails well shaped and defined with parallel lines and reef points. Set on an emerald sea rolling headlong at the yacht, Willis has made his sky open and luminous with a subtle pink glow.
This is a fine work, in original condition set in a quality and n outstanding 19th Century frame. The silk and embroidery will remain vibrant out of strong direct sunlight and the oil painted back scene is quite nice and complete. With all her sails up, the identity of this Schooner Yacht is just waiting to be discovered and add more historic content to an excellent work of art.
Belonging to financier and New York Yacht Club member Howard Gould, the steam yacht Niagara was a fine fixture in the bay at the turn of the century. Built in 1898 by Harland & Hollingsworth from the design of W. G. Shackford, the steel twin-screw ship was originally built as a bark, measuring 272 feet loa. Refit within her first decade without spars, sails and mizzen mast, the main was moved behind the deckhouse. Most likely Willis was directly commissioned to portray the yacht immediately, catching her in her finest condition.
The detailed embroidery, painted sky background are softly muted while the green sea is quite strong. Quite exceptional are the number of people Willis has depicted onboard, with crew members in white, while gentlemen have blue coats and white hats, and one woman in a skirt stands behind figures in reclining chairs. The Goulds, Morgans, Astors, Vanderbilts and other key members of American society all launched yachts upon which they lavishly entertained and remained in the public’s eye.
The yacht proudly flies the N.Y.Y.C. burgee, Gould’s private signal and the American ensign. She would be purchased from Gould in 1917 by the U.S. Navy and was converted into an armored patrol yacht. Her record of service includes World War I escort duty, and a decade of hydrographic work charting the Gulf of Venezuela and the coasts of Central America, retiring in 1933.