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Charles Cohill
American (c.1812-1860)

Rare American Portrait of Whale Ship Captain Moses Nickerson
with Ephemera

Master Mariner Moses Nickerson, son of Ezra Nickerson, was born in 1812, and died at sea in 1871. The Nickerson family is quite prominent throughout Barnstable County which encompasses all of Cape Cod. The family is primarily descended from William Nickerson (1604–1689), founder of the town of Chatham. Captain Nickerson’s home is one of Cape Cod’s historic landmarks and is preserved as a popular Bed and Breakfast Inn at Chatham.

The Nickersons are legendary throughout the New England whale fishery. A well-known and respected whaling captain, Moses Nickerson commanded numerous whale ships. His young cousin, Thomas Nickerson was the 15 year-old cabin boy aboard the famous whale ship ESSEX that was sunk by a sperm whale in 1820 and became the basis for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and is a main character in the 2015 film “In the Heart of the Sea”.

Between 1840 and 1850 Moses Nickerson was known to have owned or captained five whale ships: 130 ton Schooner R. S. SOPER, 80 ton Schooner E. R. COOK, 130 ton Schooner WALTER ERWIN, 162 ton Brig GEM and 130 ton Brig ENOCH NICKERSON.

Included with the painting is an original letter, written from Captain Nickerson to his wife dated July 12th, 1863. In it, he details preparations for the voyage he is about to undertake from Belfast, Ireland back home to Cape Cod, Massachusetts aboard his ship MARY EDSON. Photos of the letter and a copy of the text are shown here.

The first chapter in any history of American art will relate that the earliest paintings done here were traditional portraits of American Sea Captains. The sources for the New World’s indigenous art, may be traced to America’s dependence and development of the Maritime culture. Paintings of this quality are highly sought after by knowledgeable collectors and museums world-wide.

Charles Cohill (1812-1860) was a Pennsylvania artist who studied under John Neagle and specialized in oil portraits such as this fine example. Cohill portrays a young Captain Nickerson aged 34 years, in a frock coat, white shirt and cravat holding a two-draw mahogany and brass telescope.

Both Cohill and his subject were the same age at the time of this sitting. Saluting medieval tradition, the small vignette to the left shows a ship, likely one of the Captain’s whalers, heading out to sea under full sail. Direct and unpretentious, this portrait shows the artist’s use of full lighting on the face to enhance features and suggest personality. The subtle luminosity suffuses the background and adds depth overall. This portrait was created to outlast Moses Nickerson’s mortality, and it has succeeded admirably.

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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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William Edgar
Australian-American (1870 -c. 1918)

Barkentine THOMAS P. EMIGH
with Photos and Ephemera

Reaching under full sail, including a jib-headed “kicker” topsail on the Jigger mast, the white-hulled barkentine THOMAS P. EMIGH is depicted approaching what appears to be the headland near Byron’s Bay, Australia. The EMIGH engaged primarily in the Pacific lumber trade and Byron’s Bay was one of Australia’s foremost timber ports. Byron Point lighthouse, which marks the easternmost point on the Australian continent, is visible on its promontory high in the mist in the far distance. A tug, a steamer and a schooner are shown off the harbor entrance, under the EMIGH’s bowsprit.

Launched at Tacoma in 1902, the 1040 ton THOS P. EMIGH was owned and operated by the Charles Nelson Shipping Company of Oakland whose house flag is shown at the truck of the mainmast. Her correct signal letters K.R.L.Q. are displayed beneath the American ensign at the top of the Jigger mast. At 211.6’L x 42.4’B x 16.4’D, the EMIGH was the largest vessel built by the legendary Northern California shipbuilder Thomas Petersen.

William Edgar ship portraits are stunning in their realism and attention to nautical detail. His realistic seas capture the offshore blues and greens found only in deep offshore waters and his skies are abundant with nautical atmosphere. This portrait of the THOMAS P. EMIGH shows her sailing with every sail in the inventory full and drawing, parting the waves with a prominent “bone in her teeth.”

The painting is accompanied by photos of the ship launching and on deck scenes of the captain and his family as well as a letter from the captain to his wife. These items were handed down through the family of the ship’s part owner and master, M.A. Ipsen.

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Jack L. Gray
Canadian (1927-1981)

The Grand Banks

Calling in her dories through a thickening fog, the Lunenburg Grand Banker ALCALA, is beautifully portrayed by Nova Scotia sea painter Jack L. Gray. Gray’s earthy depictions of maritime life are regularly sought after for their realism and narrative excellence. Gray was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and as a teenager, developed his love for the sea and painting at about the same time. His significant time spent at sea familiarized him with the realities of maritime endeavor, which is portrayed genuinely in all of his paintings.

Gray spent several years working aboard boats. He traveled to New York aboard his 15-foot skiff named S.O.B, which, for a time, also served as his studio. In New York, he often painted from a vantage point on the deck of the US Navy aircraft carrier ENTERPRISE. With these unique views of the harbor, Gray created an important body of work during his time in New York.

The 126 foot long ALCALA was built in 1919 at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The first seven years of her life were spent working the Grand Banks out of the small port of Digby until 1929, when she changed her registry to St. John’s, Newfoundland. In the early 20th century, Canada’s schooner fleet was a mainstay of the Cod fishing industry. Along with their US counterparts, these strongly built Canadian vessels, would spend months at a time on the Grand Banks, sending out their dories daily to seek the highly prized Atlantic Cod. ALCALA was a well-known “high liner” bringing record catches of cod to market still fresh due to her legendary speed under sail.

In this painting, two of ALCALA’s dories are making their way back to the schooner after a day of exhausting handline fishing. Dory #8 is in the foreground, her two “dory mates” up to their knees in fresh cod. In the distance, a second dory, this one under sail also approaches the schooner. ALCALA is jogging along under just her fore and main sails as the hard working fishermen come alongside to unload the day’s bounty.

Gray gets everything right in a beautiful composition rich in his trademark detail. The misty offshore atmosphere is accented by the red hull of the foreground dory and the fishermen’s sou’westers and colorful work clothes. Perspective between the dory and the graceful schooner is masterfully highlighted by the ever present swarm of seabirds circling in hopes the occasional cod will escape the unloading process and become a tasty snack.

Gray’s stirring depictions of maritime life are regularly sought after throughout the USA and Canada and can often exceed expectations when they are up for public sale and auctions. This is one of the best examples we have seen of his work.

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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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Antonio Jacobsen
Danish-American (1850-1921)

New York Yacht Club Fleet Race, 1889 PALMER Leading ATALANTA

Antonio Jacobsen was an incredibly prolific artist, but the works most prized by collectors are his yachting scenes, particularly pieces like this exceptional example, done in his best period the late 1880’s, featuring yachts of the New York Yacht Club.

In what appears to be a fleet race for New York Yacht Club Members on Long Island Sound during the 1880’s, the foreground vessel is easily identified by her owner’s private signal as the center-board schooner PALMER, built in 1869 for Rutherford Stuyvesant, an early member of the New York Yacht Club. The schooner was named after the famous designer and clipper ship captain Nathaniel B. Palmer who was also a member and early promoter of the NYYC.

Trailing the leading boats is a twin stack side-wheel excursion steamer, a common sight at such races. Jacobsen himself must have been among the spectators on such boats many times to so well capture the graceful sweep of sails above sleek hulls cutting through the waves. Many other ships populate the distant horizon on both sides, including on the right a hove to sailing ship with a steam tug moving away, having dropped the tow after delivering the ship to its anchorage.

The 100’ PALMER was designed by R.F. Loper; and built at Philadelphia in 1869 at the yard of Hillman and Steaker. This yacht was one of four NYYC schooners selected for the second defense of the America’s Cup in October, 1871. She enjoyed a successful racing career well into the 20th century.

The indistinct owner’s pennant on the vessel immediately trailing PALMER off her port quarter points to it being the 100’ schooner ATALANTA- the first racer owned by William B. Astor, Jr. The 145 Ton ATALANTA was built by David Carll (1830-1888) at City Island, New York in 1873 and became widely known as a fast boat, especially in light winds. Her name was later shortened to ATLANTA. She was the first of several successful racing schooners owned by Astor. Jacobsen’s use of color and excellent composition of this desirable subject- well-known schooners matched many times- make it a top work by the artist.

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