This is an extremely well done narrative ship portrait by one of the more elusive American marine painters, Joseph B. Smith. The schooner AURELIA P. HOWE, named after the daughter of a Manhattan business family, launched in 1845 out of Baltimore, Maryland and worked in the Chesapeake and Atlantic coastwise trade. Shown in her early glory, the schooner would be part of a legal battle in 1858, disappearing from the news to surface for Civil War charter service.
The painting is a well performed composition, with the primary subject crisply detailed and proudly showing her tell-tale flags, the artistic hand of Smith clearly evident. The charm of the setting, we believe off the New York coast, includes a top-sail schooner, other fore-and-aft rigs, a white-hulled, walking-beam sidewheel steamer, and two very animated men making the most of the day fishing, a touch which is a very unusual addition to a ship portrait. The schooner’s crew is on deck, and there’s a nice sense of motion to the ship in the water. Another near identical Smith painting of the schooner is known, closer to a shore without most of the supporting cast. Our painting has a New York artist supply label verso from 1835-1865.
The schooner would be in a New York Times brief in 1858, when Andrew F. Higgins acquires partial title to it in settlement of an account of Master William Tilby. Later, in 1863, soldiers of Company C, the Fifty-First Volunteer Regiment of Massachusetts would use it for transport out of Baltimore during the Civil War, recording their voyages in several published letters. Miss Aurelia Perry Howe married mariner Moses Kelley Glines, and their son George would be born in Baltimore in 1849, quite possibly while his parents or grandparents owned the merchant schooner.
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