The brilliant J. E. Buttersworth, considered the dean of 19th century yachting artists, has chosen to depict a fleet of no less than ten racing yachts approaching buoy number 10 at Southwest spit on the old NYYC course off Sandy Hook. The central vessel is the 1871 America’s Cup Defender, COLUMBIA wearing the private signal of her owner, NYYC Rear Commodore Franklin Osgood.
Both COLUMBIA’s jib and mainsail are deep reefed, while her crew struggles to furl the foresail in a lively sea stirred up by an approaching squall. On the left, charging in from windward on starboard tack, is the 1880 extreme cutter WENONAH, a British design built by Henry Piepgrass of New York, and owned by James Stillman of the NYYC.
Osgood had COLUMBIA (114’L x 26’B x 8’D) built at the Roach yard in Chester, Pennsylvania as one of the big schooners designed to defend the America’s Cup, which she successfully achieved in 1871. The cutter WENONAH was very unique for her time. NYYC rules stated that yachts racing in their regattas had to have been built in America. The new British built extreme cutters were winning most of the challenge races in Europe, so Stillman engaged the firm of Harvey and Prior in London to design one of the new speedsters and had her built in New York by master shipwright Henry Piepgrass. The combination proved successful as WENONAH proceeded to win all but one of her NYYC races the year she was launched. It was in part due to WENONAH’s success that the America’s Cup was henceforth contested in single-masted cutters rather than schooners.
To accent racing drama, Buttersworth often depicted his racing scenes at the outermost point of the racecourse. This example is an excellent narrative that expresses great understanding of the action rounding the mark near the Sandy Hook Lightship. For many years this painting was one of the highlights of the prestigious collection of Olympic Yachtsman and New York Yacht Club member Glen S. Foster.
The period photograph shows the Skipper of the COLUMBIA Andrew J. Comstock, at the COLUMBIA's helm. This is shown for historical reference and not included with the painting.
Illustrated: Granby, Alan; “A Yachtsman’s Eye, The Glen S. Foster Collection of Marine Paintings” p.45; Schaefer, Rudolph J., "J.E. Buttersworth, 19th Century Marine Painter" (Plate IX) pp.116-117
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