Maritime Art

The Society for Nautical Research helps to purchase important works of art for the National Maritime Museum. In the interwar years many private art collections were in danger of being sold abroad. Among them was the collection of over 11,000 maritime prints, drawings and paintings of the noted yachtsman and collector Arthur Macpherson. In 1927 the society launched a public appeal to raise the funds to acquire his collection. With the huge generosity of Sir James Caird the collection was purchased and formed one of the founding collections of the National Maritime Museum.

Macpherson had an encyclopedic attitude to art collecting and aimed to document every aspect of maritime history through pictures. The early Netherlandish paintings are particularly fine, including a late sixteenth-century allegory of the Ship of State and Abraham Storck’s ‘Shipping off Amsterdam’.

The surplus of the public appeal was used to create the Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund which continues to be used to assist the purchase of additional works of art for the museum. Among the works purchased are a large number of paintings, prints and drawings by the noted marine artist W. L. Wyllie and an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray from a voyage to Africa in 1775.

The following works of art are taken from the many hundreds acquired for the nation by the society. A new work will be published monthly.

Featured Piece: The Electric (c.1860)

By Anonymous

The clipper ship Electric is shown sailing on the port tack in a brisk breeze and on choppy seas. The small vessel in the foreground is a New York pilot boat, flying a distinctive ‘P’ flag. The flag flown by the Electric is particularly interesting, being an early form of the flag of the United States of America, before the arrangement of the stars in the top left canton had been officially codified. The Electric was built in Mystic, Connecticut by Irons & Grinnell, and launched in 1853. The  firm was established in 1841 by  Dexter Irons and Amos Grinnell and became famous. In the seventeen years that the firm existed the firm built 38 vessels used among other things in trading with South America and transporting goods to the California Gold Rush. The Electric was a ‘medium’ clipper (as opposed to an ‘extreme’ clipper) and was built for both cargo capacity and speed. The Electric’s first owner was a G. Adams from New York and she operated in the trans-Atlantic trade, sailing between New York and Le Havre. This undated lithograph is likely to relate to this period in her life. She was subsequently sold to German owners when she became instrumental in transporting Mormon emigrants from England, Germany and Scandinavia, to New York. In 1872, bound to New York from Hamburg she was abandoned, leaky and nearly full of water.

The Society has published a number of important articles on history related to clipper ships including ‘The World’s First Clipper‘ in 1943. Scottish Maid, built in Aberdeen in 1839 by Alexander Hall & Co, was a revolutionary design of fine schooner. Using highly original, ingenious and effective studies of ship models in a glass testing tank, the design for the first clipper ship Scottish Maid, 142 tons, evolved. With fine lines, extreme fore-raked clipper bow, she proved to be a fast, safe vessel, frequently making the journey to London in 49 hours. So successful was the design that Messrs Hall had orders to construct vessels to successfully trade in every part of the globe. 

The article ‘Hollow Waterlines and Early Clippers‘ from 1946 addresses the question when is a clipper not a clipper? and lists definitions and published sources.

Under Sail to New Zealand in 1870‘ gives a fascinating description of the voyage of the clipper Otago to New Zealand from Britain in 1870, one of many such voyages she made. The passage was made in 83 days, and quotes are given from the weather log describing the sometimes difficult sea conditions that were faced.