Maritime paintings of the late 19th Century often give great insight into the massive transition which happened in shipbuilding in that period: the end of the sailing ships as merchant and war powers and the beginning of steel hulls and powerful engines churning hidden screws under the water.
This painting is one such work. Set in the context of New York Harbor, off Governor's Island and in front of Castle Williams, a wide variety of both steam and sail ships traverse the harbor. The scene is detailed and idealistic, with all ships floating calmly at anchor or with crews going about their business under warm afternoon light. There is enough wind to carry smoke from a salute fired from the Castle, sending it sideways towards a passing sloop, but not so much as to disturb the billowing clouds high above.
In the foreground, small rowboats carry two couples out for an excursion on the water, while another carries a lone mariner, perhaps out to the lanteen-rigged fishing boat heavy with the day's catch piled upon her deck. A steam tug makes her way out past the Castle and other small sailing ships of commerce and transportation which dot the shoreline. Beyond the Island and in the distance are other large sailing and transitional vessels. And then, at the painting's right, a modern, sleek , and, at the time, the state-of-the-art ship- the US Navy Protected Cruiser USS CHICAGO quietly declaring herself a vision of the future at sea.
CHICAGO was one of the US Navy's first four steel hull ships and was the largest of the original three ships authorized by Congress for the "New Navy" at 4,600 tons and a length of 342 ft. Built by Delaware River Iron Ship Building and Engine Works of Chester, PA, CHICAGO was launched in 1885 and commissioned in 1889. The ship's two screws were powered by two compound overhead beam steam engines and the ship also had three masts, rigged as a bark in order to increase crusing range.
It's likely that CHICAGO was serving as the flagship of the North Atlantic Squadron when this was painted, and perhaps the artist saw her impressive bulk on one of the ship's stays in New York Harbor.
This painting is in outstanding condition, with no touch up and is a great example of both this artist's work and historical works of the period.
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