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Monday, January 16, 2012

Redwood Project: Caroline McGuckian's New Entry

Blog: Redwood Project Student Work: Caroline McGuckian

Caroline McGuckian’s entry for Duncan McFarlane’s Britannia—part of our collaboration with the Redwood library to catalog their collection—demonstrates the types of research skills students acquire in the Methodologies of Research course.  Blending together solid primary sources with modern scholarship, McGuckian was able to identify the vessel depicted in the painting, and this allowed her to examine more specifically the image’s content and significance.  This is a welcome addition to the catalog.

Duncan McFarlane, Britannia, 1854, oil on canvas
Gift of James T. Patten
Image copyright Redwood Libray
While the Dutch and English ruled the seas during the 17th and 18th centuries, America challenged these powers in the 19th century.  Along with the struggle for dominance over the open seas, grew the popularity of Marine art within each country. After the War of 1812, which was rooted in England and America’s battle for the authority of Atlantic trade, America’s involvement sparked the curiosity within its people for marine art and the romanticized notion of exploring unknown territories.  During this time was also when America began its growth as a nation and westward expansion. Much like landscape painting in America during the nineteenth century, Marine painting showed the growing fascination of expansion and exploration.
The majority of Marine Art during the nineteenth century was produced on commission, in most cases by the owner of the ship.  Many American works resemble English examples, since many of the artists were Europeans or Americans working in the established English style of marine painting. Scottish-born artist Duncan McFarlane (c. 1818-1865) used the Liverpool Harbor as his backdrop and was able to make a substantial living as a skilled artist.  Liverpool was the perfect place to observe America’s ships, as the harbor served as the main source for America’s trade with England.  McFarlane typically included multiple views of a single ship in his compositions, and rigorously depicted ship’s flags and rigging details.  His paintings are characterized by their brightly lit blue skies and choppy green waters topped with white-capped waves.   The Britannia, 1854, signed on the reverse with, “D. McFarlane 1854,” depicts a clipper ship.  Known for their quick speed and majestic beauty, these ships were a popular subject for marine art in the nineteenth century. One detail that recurs in many of McFarlane’s paintings is the image of a seagull placed in the foreground of the painting.  The seagull is depicted flying above the choppy waves on the lower left side of the canvas. The ship Britannia is pictured gliding into Liverpool Harbor, distinguishable by the distant hill with topping lighthouse known as Point Lynas.
The ship Britannia was built in 1853 in Bath, Maine weighing 1194 tons.  The painting was most likely painted by McFarlane on commission from the Britannia’s owner George F. Patten of Bath, Maine.  Patten, a respectable citizen and businessman, established a successful shipbuilding company in the early 1800’s, producing multiple vessels including forty ships. As Duncan McFarlane never left Liverpool, there is no doubt that he painted the Britannia while the ship was docked at the Liverpool Harbor.  In July of 1859, the Britannia was documented upon its arrival in Liverpool to deliver a cargo of coal.  The Redwood Library was given the painting by James T. Patten, George F. Patten’s son.


1850 Federal Census, Bath, Maine.

A.S. Davidson, Marine Art & Liverpool Painters, Places, & Flag Codes 1760-1960, (Wolverhampton, England: Waine Research Publications, 1986).

Alan Granby, Flying the Colors: The Unseen Treasures of Nineteenth-Century American Marine Art (Manchester, Vermont: Hudson River Press LLC, 2009).

Michael E. Leek, The Art of Nautical Illustration: A Visual Tribute to the Achievements of the Classic Marine Illustrators, (London: Quatro Publishing Plc.,1991).

Marine Intelligence, New York Times, September 21, 1859, 8.

New York marine register: a standard of classification of American ports,1857, (New York: R.C. Root, Anthony & C, 1857)

Parker McCobb Reed, History of Bath and Environs, Sagahadoc County, Maine: 1607-1894, (Portland, Maine: Lakeside Press, 1894), 340.

John Wilmerding, American Marine Painting, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987).

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