Live Auction

The Fine Sale - Day Two

Sun, Apr 28, 2019 11:00AM EDT
Lot 523

James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894): Dreadnought

Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000
Sold for

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Oil on canvas mounted on masonite, signed 'J. E. Buttersworth' lower right.

26 x 36 in., 31 1/4 x 41 1/2 in. (frame).

Note: Known as the 'Wild Beast of the Atlantic', the clipper ship Dreadnought was one of the most famous ships of its day. Launched from Newburyport, MA in 1853, she was captained by Samuel Samuels for her first thirty trips across the Atlantic to Liverpool as part of the Red Cross Line of packet ships. In 1864, the Dreadnought was sold and under her new owners her route was changed to New York/San Francisco which led to her demise in 1869 when she was wrecked on the approach to Cape Horn. 

This painting has been dated to around 1871, two years after the wreck of the Dreadnought. It was not uncommon for ship portraits to be painted after the demise of the vessel. In this painting, we see on the left side the four-masted twin-funneled trans-Atlantic steamship of the National Line. Only two of their vessels carried this configuration and both were launched in 1871, so we are able to date this painting to be from 1871 at the earliest. Buttersworth painted the Dreadnought at least three other times. Two of the paintings were reproduced in engraving. 

An interesting compositional detail in this work is the lack of the distinctive Red Cross flag that appears on the fore top sail in other portraits of the Dreadnought. It has been suggested that this painting commemorates her final trans-Atlantic voyage in late 1863 when she was partially dismasted in a storm on the homeward leg from Liverpool. After putting in to Fayal on the westernmost point of the Azores for repairs, her original top sail with the red cross was replaced by a plain sail for the rest of the voyage home. Despite the lack of her red cross flag, she is shown flying the correct house flag from her main mast.


Canvas cut from original stretcher and mounted on masonite. Areas of surface abrasion showing top right and along the right edge. Several tiny scattered losses. Small nicks and losses and rubbing around the edges. Surface soiling.
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