Two of the more significant racing schooners ever compete head-to-head in this scene from the premier artist of 19TH Century American yacht racing, James E. Buttersworth. In full racing trim and holding a tight lead, New York Yacht Club Rear Commodore William P. Douglas's SAPPHO will take the victory over his friend and club member James Gordon Bennett's DAUNTLESS in the last match of the 1870 racing season. Their shared prior history includes racing against Englishman James Ashbury's COLUMBIA, which indirectly led to his first challenge for the America's Cup.
The 1870 season saw Ashbury cross the Atlantic in a victorious race against DAUNTLESS, and then sail against a fleet of yachts from the N.Y.Y.C. in what is known as the First Defense. While this was underway, Douglas had purchased SAPPHO, and employed Capt. Bob Fish to re-design the Pouillon schooner into a champion. Both Douglas and Bennett also put up trophy cups and high stakes for several races in the 1870 and 1871 seasons that would became annual events, two of which are known today as the Brenton Reef Cup and the Cape May Race. Ashbury would return the following year and challenge again for the America's Cup with LIVONIA, which was soundly defeated by COLUMBIA and then SAPPHO in the successful defense.
It's SAPPHO that captures the scene in this wonderful example of Buttersworth's yacht portraiture. His attention to the exacting detail of the schooner shows the racing crews aboard, the hull raked with speed, the sails stiff in the blow. The sky has a myriad of clouds and colors, and the ocean is as challenging as the match deserved. Prior to this, Buttersworth painted DAUNTLESS's victory for Bennett, so some matter of satisfaction was gained by Douglas with the victory, not to mention the $500 silver cup, the prevailing side wagers and the added renown of Capt. Fish.
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