This painting came from the collection of Glen S. Foster, a prominent New York gentleman that during his lifetime amassed a collection of the finest works by James E. Buttersworth. With his passing, the collection was sold at auction by Phillips in 2002 and achieved record prices.
This is a rare and important example of Buttersworth’s output, with all of the hallmarks of his most desired works along with touches that are unique to this period. The tight detail is exquisite in this painting. The amount of detail- the number of vessels, the land, the figures on deck and in the foreground boat- is considerable, even for Buttersworth who was known for great detail. Wonderful reflective qualities are visible in the foreground in particular and in the sails of the PALMER.
The extreme clipper N.B. PALMER was launched February 9, 1851, by Westerveldt & MacKay, at New York, for account of A.A. Low & Brother of that city. She was one of the most famous of the American clipper fleet. The N.B. PALMER was 202’ x 38’6” x 21’9”; 1399 tons, old measurement; 1124 tons new measurement. She proved to be one of the fastest sailing vessels ever built and was an excellent sea boat, especially in heavy weather. Her first captain was Charles Porter Low who commanded PALMER for most of her career.
New York Yacht Club member Nathaniel Brown Palmer designed the N.B. Palmer. “Captain Nat,” who joined the club in 1845, began his career at sea at the age of fourteen aboard a blockade runner in the War of 1812. By the time he was twenty-one years old he commanded sailing vessels out of Stonington, Connecticut. In 1821, while in command of the HERO, he discovered what is now Palmer Land in Antarctica. Subsequently he both commanded and designed Atlantic packets and China clippers, including the famous ships GARRICK, SIDDONS, HOUQUA, CONTEST and ORIENTAL. In 1854 he retired from A.A. Low & Co., who named their famous clipper in his honor.
He continued his interest in the sea, designing some fifteen yachts, including the schooner yacht N.B. PALMER, winner for several New York Yacht Club members. Buttersworth portrayed N.B. PALMER at anchor off Staten Island, becalmed, but with sails set waiting for a breeze so that she could clear port on short notice. At the main truck is the yellow and red Low & Co. house flag with the initials of the N.B. PALMER.
Buttersworth used a wave pattern in the picture that is reminiscent of Robert Salmon and his Dutch predecessors. It seems that this rendering of wave and water was short-lived, lasting perhaps only a year. There are extant paintings where this technique of rendering water is used, but they are of English subject matter on the river Thames. However, there is the notable exception “New York Packet ENTERPRISE Entering the Thames, exhibited at Wind, Waves and Sail, the Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1997. It has been suggested that Buttersworth traveled to England for America’s challenge in 1851. He may have experimented with this technique at that time.
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