This atmospheric painting by James E. Butterworth depicts a group of yachts leaving New York Harbor on the annual New York Yacht Club cruise. In 1887, when this was painted, upon arrival at Newport, Rhode Island several of these yachts would participate in that year's Goelet Cup, an annual race held between 1882 and 1897 to see which yachts would become the leading contenders to defend the America's Cup each season.
While it was a New York Yacht Club race, competitors were invited to race as well. Besides the honors of the America's Cup defense, at stake was a $1,000 prize for the winning sloop and schooner as well as a perpetual trophy held by the club along with a custom silver trophy designed by Tiffany & Co. of New York.
The main vessel here, VOLUNTEER, would take top honors, winning the right to defend the America's Cup. 1887 was her maiden racing season and the Goelet Cup hosted a large fleet including MAYFLOWER, STILETTO, PURITAN, AMERICA, MISCHIEF, NORSEMAN and ELECTRA. VOLUNTEER proved to be the class yacht of the race, winning the race by more than 8 minutes and losing only one match the entire year.
This painting shows brilliant shafts of light coming through the clouds illuminating Sandy Hook Lighthouse and the yachts at sea. While the clear flag on VOLUNTEER, as well as an inscription verso, identify her as the main yacht, the others are more of a challenge. The other yachts flags are small but we suspect the yacht ahead of VOLUNTEER is the HURON while the schooner behind could be MAYFLOWER. Butterworth has included several interesting details including full crews on the ships and good colors in sea and sky creating a moody depiction of sailing on active waters.
VOLUNTEER would go on to also win the America's Cup- defeating the English Challenger THISTLE. This was the great age of yachting and Buttersworth was the greatest artistic chronicler of the age and its most graceful and strong competitors of the sea.
This painting came out of a private family collection that held the painting for more than 40 years.
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