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Franklyn Bassford
American (1857-1897)

Yacht MAYFLOWER Defending the Americas Cup

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Julian O. Davidson
American (1853-1894)

USS Constitution in Action Against HMS Guerriere

A naval battle scene from the War of 1812, this work by Julian O. Davidson captures a dramatic turning point for the American Navy, the first significant defeat of a British Sailing Warship by a Naval Frigate. No less a vessel than U.S.S. CONSTITUTION is firing a broadside on approach at the distressed H.M.S. GUERRIERE, after her mizzen mast has toppled, limiting her maneuvering for position. The scene glows with action and the harsh reality of nautical combat.

Breaking the British dominance of naval warfare, the ship commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, met H.M.S. GUERRIERE under the command of Captain James Dacres on August 17, 1812 after the British officer issued a direct challenge. Dacres was so confident that he promised his crew 4 months pay for a 15-minute victory, but things didn’t go as he planned. Approximately 45 minutes of sailing for dominant positioning with some long-range volleys, and the ships closed to rake each other with cannon broadsides. While the British mizzen mast was splintered, some shots actually bounced off the sides of the American oak ship, birthing her now famous ‘Old Ironsides’ nickname.

This captured moment, of CONSTITUTION coming around with another broadside is the decisive moment of battle, her guns barraging the British who try to respond. On the next approach, GUERRIERE was surrendered. Davidson does a proper homage to the victory and devastation, with cannons flaring and the red glow reflecting in the smoke, men high in the rigging and low in the sea. The artistic effort by Davidson invokes the tragic wonder and awe that a marine artist seeks from his audience, even with the outcome apparent.

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Montague Dawson
British (1895-1973)

Nearing Home, The HELICON

Bright and magnificent, the Ship HELICON slices on a quick reach in this maritime merchant ship portrait with its remarkable realism in his signature loose stroke. The sailing ship carries a proper spread of canvas for the existing wind, and Montague Dawson portrays numerous sailors active on her deck and in the rigging. Her white hull glistens, and shows some of the inevitable rust of a hard-working steel-and-iron hull ship. The ocean is alive with movement beneath the ship.

HELICON was built by Charles Connell & Co. of Glasgow to order for German owners Bernard Wencke & Son in 1887. She measured 230'6" Length with a 38'4" Beam, and weighed in at 1613 net tons. Connell & Co. had launched a near-identical sister ship to HELICON the year prior, the historic vessel BALCLUTHA, which is now a famous museum ship based in San Francisco.

After Wencke purchased the British STAR OF THE SEA in 1884, they renamed that ship HELICON. Loaded with 2000 tons of railroad tracks, the ship departed Hull on Feb. 2, 1886, bound for Sydney. She was never seen again. In memory, the Wencke firm named their newest ship HELICON, and it served the company on voyages to Australia, Chile and Africa for years, selling to Spanish interests in 1920. The ship served nine more years as VIUDA LLUSA, until broken up in 1929. Dawson may have known this ship early as an artist, and revisited the subject later in his career to produce this painting.

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Montague Dawson
British (1895-1973)

The Clipper BLUE JACKET

The extreme clipper Blue Jacket of 1790 tons launched in 1854, plying the Liverpool and Australia trades for the White Star Line and later the Fox Line of Australian Packets. Unusually elegant in her design and interiors, she caught the attention of U.S. Nautical Magazine who described her lush cabins, parlors and saloon as a “miniature palace.”

Designed by Donald McKay and built by Seccomb & Taylor of Boston, BLUE JACKET was white oak, with planking and ceilings of white pine, diagonally braced with iron and square fastened throughout. She sat at 235’ LOA, 41.5’ at the beam, with a 24’ draft. Her name came from the slang for both British and American sailors, and their uniforms which included dark blue jackets.

BLUE JACKET is described as having an appearance of “strength and power” typical of McKay’s ships, which is surely what must have drawn Montague Dawson to depict her in his own characteristic style. With her port side digging into the churning waves, Blue Jacket is bent over and pushed hard with the wind in her sails- decks awash revealing water coming from the port scuppers. With the wind off her stern she is no doubt making good time in this following sea. Portraits like this, of hard driving ships in active seas made Dawson famous. Yet in this work he shows more than usual skill in the sky with fine work in the clouds and excellent tonality and light.

Until her untimely demise due to fire off the Falkland Islands in 1869, Blue Jacket sailed across the globe from Boston, San Francisco and Honolulu in the US, to Liverpool and London, then south to Melbourne and New Zealand and up to Madras, India. Her distinctive figurehead of a man from the waist up in a naval blue jacket with yellow buttons was later found over two years later off the coast of Western Australia. It’s calculated that the figure drifted over 6000 miles after being separated from the ship.

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William John Huggins
British (1781-1845)

The Northern Whale Fishery

The Ship Harmony of Hull and Other Ice-Bound Whalers on the Davis Straits between Baffin Bay, Canada and Greenland.

Huggins, a one time a sailor with the East India Company and firsthand witness to the scene depicted, first painted this well-known image in 1828. Entitled Northern Whale Fishery, the image was engraved by Edward Duncan in 1829 (Huggins son-in-law) and brought greater fame to both men for illuminating the rewards and perils of whaling in the icy waters on the Davis Strait whaling ground between southeast Baffin Bay, Canada and Greenland. The original 1828 work now hangs in the renowned New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

This second, larger and more proficient interpretation of the scene was most likely commissioned by Robert Bell in 1835 (son to Thomas Bell, owner of the HARMONY). The American built bark HARMONY of 292 tons sits at the center of the painting with the MARGARET of London to the left and the ELIZA SWAN of Montrose to the right. Filled with incredible detail throughout, nearly every aspect of whaling is depicted- from the chase and capture, to processing the catch alongside, to “trying out” or boiling down the blubber on HARMONY’s bow.

Two other masted ships are shown, including one foundering as the ice closes in on her hull, her crew surely trying to salvage what they can as they stand alongside. Penguins gather on an ice floe near one of the twelve depicted whale boats as it closes in on a catch. Birds circle all the ships, hoping for a morsel. Huggins sets the scene masterfully and the viewer can almost feel what it’s like to be there.

Authentic period paintings of the very interesting and historically significant whaling era are extremely rare. This painting not only depicts history, it is itself an important piece of history, combining fine detail, skillful brushwork and sensitive coloration in a work that any collector would cherish.

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Robert Salmon
Anglo-American (1775-c.1848)

Moonlight Scene on the Quay, Ramsgate

This lively scene along the quay in Ramsgate Harbour, Kent, England shows that even at night this working port was filled with activity. Salmon’s trademark luminism is on display here, with warm moonlight illuminating layers of clouds and the over 75 figures and 14 ships below, including two full rigged ships.

Two historic sea walls encircle Ramsgate Harbour today, almost meeting in the center, though this part of the harbor was still under construction when this was painted in 1846. Ramsgate Harbour is unique in Great Britain, as the only harbor allowed to call itself a Royal Harbour; given that distinction by King George IV because of the great hospitality shown him and the Royal Yacht Squadron when using the harbor in 1821.

On the right, Ramsgate Light is lit to warn sailors off the low tide which has already caught two vessels, now tilting perilously and resting on their keels. On the quay fishermen inspect the catch while others haul in a net. A guardsman stands at attention near his small guardhouse, likely looking at the figure of a gentleman gesturing to two young sailors in naval uniforms, perhaps tempting them to mischief. Like so many of Salmon’s best works this painting is filled with these small vignettes, slices of portside and seafaring life.

Not much is known about the end of Robert Salmon’s life including the date of his death though it is estimated that he passed in the late 1840’s, making this one of his last works. Moonlight scenes such as this one were favorite subjects in Salmon’s late period, and this showcases his mature skill in depicting light and fine detail throughout.

Salmon used alternate spellings of his last name, and the version verso here, “Soloman” was a known variant used to sign paintings.

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