This unusual work depicts the history of ships called the China Clippers- ships purpose built to carry passengers and cargo between the United States and China. While only one of these ships was a true clipper, all three were considered China Clippers and each were vital to trade and transportation in their time.
The trio of ships forms a well balanced composition with a high level of detail and excellent contrast. Shimidzu sets off both the ocean liner and float plane with excellent backgrounds, with a nostalgic feel to the distant full-rigged ship. When it was painted in 1938 it would have celebrated the 100 year history of the China Clippers while featuring the early 20th's century's most modern developments in travel.
On the painting's right we see the first China Clippers - the large three-masted, full rigged ships with square sails which plied the waters between China and New York or San Francisco. The first purpose built China Clippers were built in 1830's and were based on the earlier Baltimore Clippers- nimble ships designed for speed over maximum cargo space. Because of the limited cargo holds shippers favored for high value goods for these vessels like tea, opium and the provisions which would fuel California's Gold Rush.
In the center we see the S.S. PRESIDENT COOLEDGE, a luxury steamship liner which ran a route between San Francisco and Manila via Kobe and Shanghai as well as some around the world voyages with additional ports of call. She was built in 1931 and operated under the Dollar Steamship Lines until 1938, and later by American President Lines until 1941. When the United States joined WWII, the ship was converted to a troopship. In this painting we see the Dollar Steamship logo on her stacks. We believe this painting was a commission from the Dollar family, who still were in control of the Dollar Line when this was painted.
Knowing the first of these planes would have a final destination in Asia, Pan Am modeled this service after that of the first China Clippers, styling them more like the luxury ocean liners of the day rather than aircraft with pilots and crew sporting naval style uniforms. This first plane, a Martin Ocean Transport or M130 aircraft, carried the name CHINA CLIPPER, and was the first ocean airmail service and commercial air flight across the Pacific.
While the age of the Clipper Ship is long past and none of Pan Am's China Clipper float planes survive, it is possible to visit the SS PRESIDENT COOLEDGE today, but only if you know your way around scuba gear. In 1942 the ship was stuck by mines near Vanuatu, was forced aground and later sank. The ship's wreckage is relatively accessible to divers and is now a protected and popular dive site.
This painting carries an inscription in the lower right, "To the LA Pilots, Nov. 20-38, By Capt. (Illegible, perhaps G.A. Ahlin). The painting is titled, "The China Clippers".
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