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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 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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Henry Scott
British (1911-2005)

Stunsails Wide

A bright sky serves as a background to fast-moving merchant sailing ship on a deep-toned rolling ocean in this oil painting by maritime enthusiast and artist Henry Scott. The medium clipper, tall at five courses of sail up her masts, employs stuns’ls at the extreme lengths of her yards, using the extra canvas to push ahead of her competitor on the horizon.

Scott, an artistic fixture amongst the wharfs of Liverpool, was well familiar with some of the last Clipper Ships sailing. His professional association with the Master Mariners of Liverpool kept him recording the great ships of his days and the historic vessels and stories personally recounted to him by the men who lived those moments. The tea trade and racing to be the first ship to market were some of the most prominent stories told, but far from the only ones. Epic storms, fast passages and chance encounters over the world’s oceans all make appearances in his artworks. Crew members manning the forward rail would have some interesting tales to tell.

Illuminating the canvas work of Scott’s textured brush strokes, which in this case are intentionally capturing the direction of the natural elements. One of several artists to follow in the wake of Marine Master Montague Dawson, Scott was also represented by Frost & Reed Galleries. In this case, Scott is careful to show neither the ship’s carved figurehead or nameboard to concrete his subject ship’s identity. Scott chose her instead to be representative of a great many of the last “Wooden Walls” of the world’s merchant sailing ships.

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Warren Sheppard
American (1858-1937)

Yacht CORNELIA at the New York Yacht Club Regatta

A memorable American yacht racing moment, preserved as art, has several schooners owned by members of the New York Yacht Club racing in their annual summer regatta on June 11, 1874. Prominent in the center of this painting is CORNELIA, owned by Dr. Joseph Vondy. Vondy was a member of both the N.Y.Y.C. and the Jersey City Yacht Club, and most likely directly commissioned artist Warren Sheppard. Closest in competition is the Schooner VISION, owned by member J.S. Alexandre with his family’s burgee atop the main, and a nearby top-sail schooner. In the distance is believed the event’s winner, John Walker’s Schooner GRACIE. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is a small white sliver of a tower, visible above CORNELIA’s stern rail and light-brightened sails.

Sheppard was well known in the late 19th Century New York art world, and a proponent of maritime activities. This era saw changes in American yacht racing, with a growing audience, the publication of the first yachting annual, Fox’s in 1872, and the international debate over measures and ratings that would dominate the coming decade. The New York club’s outside ocean course offered a different challenge, and the big schooners excelled over it. CORNELIA, built in 1873 by James McGarrick, measured a respectable 65' 8".

The atmosphere is full of heavy, darker clouds, and CORNELIA has turned into the headlong wind. VISION is preparing to come about, and the rolling swells are breaking against their sharp hulls. The annual regatta, first held in 1845 just after the birth of the club, took slightly more than six hours to complete this year. CORNELIA would leave the club’s list by 1877. James E. Buttersworth would also paint this race near the Sandy Hook Lightship; his painting today is in the Mystic Maritime Museum collection.

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