This unique portrait depicts a late 19th century yacht regatta off the coast of Massachusetts. The sea is filled with boats, sails full in a strong wind, bobbing on an active sea.
The design of the yachts date the race shown to some time to the 1880's. Three paddlewheel steamers sit nearest the shore, decks crowded with spectators while their captains keep the ships' boilers at work and the wheels turning to fight the strong current. In the foreground a small schooner at anchor keeps her sails furled and out of the way of the six figures there to watch the race. As the racers approach the buoy, a large schooner edges out a sloop to take the lead. Crews run across the decks of both vessels seeking to take best advantage of the strong wind while four other racers maneuver in the distance. To the buoy's right two other sloops and another yacht with furled sails also watch the race. The furthest right sloop bears a burgee which usually indicates that a yacht club commander is on board, likely to oversee the competition.
Children's Island has been known by many names but for most of its history it was known as Cat Island. The island sits off Marblehead, Massachusetts, and is part of the City of Salem. The island was a key strategic port during the Revolutionary War. After the Boston Tea Party and the closure of the port of Boston, many British Royal Naval Vessels moored off Children's Island in order blockade Marblehead and Salem harbors. In the 19th century, during the time of this race, the island was renamed Lowell Island and became home to the Lowell Island House, a hotel and resort. Regular steamers took passengers from the railway depot at Phillips Wharf in Salem out to the island and, as shown here, out to enjoy an afternoon's yacht race.
M.H. Howes was likely a local artist, familiar with the island, the resort and yacht racing in the area. The scene is rich with brilliant color and detail throughout. White caps on the waves highlight an active sea with great brushwork. Spectators are rendered with unique touches, particularly in their clothing and hats, to bring out the variety of local residents and tourists in attendance. Every part of the painting is alive with action, from the movement of the ships to the changing cloud formations above so one can almost feel the wind and sea spray. Though the artist's biography is lost to time, this canvas shows he had a unique ability to bring the joy of racing and a day on the sea to life.
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