An rare painting in that it's a naval action by James E. Buttersworth and within the narrative scene its shows combat between an American Frigate and French privateer schooner. After the American Revolution, where the French had allied and supported the cause of American Independence heavily, the new United States government established a favorable trade agreement with the British. Angered, in 1797 in the midst of its own revolution, the French issued Letters of Marque against American shipping, and in two-and-a-half years of undeclared naval warfare, captured more than 2000 American merchant ships. By the conclusion of the hostilities of the "Quasi-War" as it's now known in 1800, American Naval Ships, including the U.S. Frigate CONSTELLATION, had captured 85 privateers and recaptured hundreds of ships taken as prizes.
With guns lit and firing, smoke transgresses with the wind, and cannon shot - some still visible in flight - has perforated the sails of both ships, the schooner is attempting flight from the larger patrol frigate, firing her stern guns in the attempt. We believe that the rowing crew in the lifeboat, rescuing a man from the water, is from a merchant ship that would have been under attack prior to the engagement shown. They have the look of men accustomed to being on the ocean, with mismatched hats and long beards, and a polearm tool is being held out for the man to recover.
Buttersworth's sky is magnificent, aglow with the touches of the sunset. The scene is full of technical and artistic detail to rival anyone else's work. The flags of both nations show prominently on each vessel, showing clearly who's involved in this highly desirable artwork of unusual naval content.
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