One of the most famous historic ships to ever sail, the British tea clipper CUTTY SARK sails returns home after another successful journey. Built on the Clyde in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line, CUTTY SARK was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.
As an avid sailor and student of maritime history, this is the perfect subject to showcase Dews outstanding talent. The painting is both romantic and realistic, showing the renowned ship in dramatic partial silhouette, all sails aloft on a stunningly sunlit day. The water is rendered in deep greens and aqua tones overlaid with warm cream and golden highlights reflecting the afternoon sun. Other traditional sailing ships surround CUTTY SARK while the outline of a steamship heading out to sea sits on the horizon, a nod to the steamships which were fast replacing clippers like CUTTY SARK as both merchant and naval ships. This is a great example of the artist’s skill and dedication to painting the best of maritime history.
The opening of the Suez Canal (also in 1869) meant that steamships now enjoyed a much shorter route to China, so CUTTY SARK spent only a few years on the tea trade before turning to the trade in wool from Australia, where she held the record time to Britain for ten years. Improvements in steam technology meant that gradually steamships also came to dominate the longer sailing route to Australia, and the ship was sold to the Portuguese company Ferreira and Co. in 1895 and renamed Ferreira. She continued as a cargo ship until purchased in 1922 by retired sea captain Wilfred Dowman, who used her as a training ship operating from Falmouth, Cornwall. After his death, CUTTY SARK was transferred to the Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe in 1938 where she became an auxiliary cadet training ship alongside HMS Worcester. By 1954, she had ceased to be useful as a cadet ship and was transferred to permanent dry dock at Greenwich, London, for public display as a museum ship.
CUTTY SARK is listed by National Historic Ships as part of the National Historic Fleet (the nautical equivalent of a Grade 1 Listed Building). She is one of only three remaining original composite construction (wooden hull on an iron frame) clipper ships from the nineteenth century in part or whole, the others being the City of Adelaide, which arrived in Port Adelaide, South Australia on 3 February 2014 for preservation, and the beached skeleton of Ambassador of 1869 near Punta Arenas, Chile.
Cutty Sark’s name comes from the famous poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns. It tells an old Scottish folktale about a farmer called Tam who is chased by a scantily-clad witch called Nannie, dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’—an archaic Scottish name for a short nightdress. Cutty Sark’s figurehead is a depiction of Nannie and Cutty Sark’s collections feature a number of items connected to Robert Burns and the Tam O’Shanter legend. The crew of Cutty Sark often placed a frayed rope in the figurehead Nannie’s hand, representing Meg’s tail.
The Legend of the Tam O’Shanter
After drinking at a pub one night, Tam starts his journey home on his trusty old mare Meg. But on his way he is transfixed by the sight of witches and wizards dancing around a bonfire in a churchyard.
One witch in particular, Nannie, catches his attention. She is young and beautiful and wearing only a cutty sark. Afraid but unable to drag himself away, Tam loses himself and shouts out ‘Weel done cutty sark’ in appreciation of her dancing.
Alerted to his presence, the witches pursue Tam, with Nannie in the lead. Knowing that witches can't cross water, Tam and Meg head for the river Doon. Just as they are about to cross, Nannie reaches out and grabbs Meg’s tail, which mysteriously comes away in Nannie’s hand, saving Tam’s life.
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