JAMES EDWARD BUTTERSWORTH
"The National Line's Steamer Italy Amidst Other Vessels at Sea"
oil on canvas, signed "J. E. Buttersworth" lower right.
20 x 36 inches
James Edward Buttersworth was the son of the English marine painter Thomas Buttersworth. He was born in 1817 on the Isle of Wight in England and immigrated to the United States around 1847. He worked for the lithographer Nathaniel Currier, and later for Currier & Ives, which disseminated Buttersworth’s work to a wide audience. During the 1850s Buttersworth made his name as a painter of clipper ships, then the fastest vessels on the sea. As steamships gradually began to replace clippers in the 1860s and 1870s, Buttersworth turned increasingly to yachting as his primary subject, which was emerging as a popular Gilded Age pastime. He recorded many America’s Cup races as well as individual yachts and harbor scenes.
In this painting, Buttersworth creates a busy, yet balanced composition. Italy, the 389-foot, iron-hulled steamship heads out of New York into threatening weather, while Mercury is astern. Italy was part of the National Steam Navigation Company, which was established in Liverpool in 1863 to provide passenger and freight service to the United States. Each ship was named for a nation, and the company focused on passenger comfort instead of speed. Italy launched in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1870, making transatlantic trips between Liverpool and New York. In 1892, the National Line abandoned its passenger service, and the ship was scrapped in 1894.
Buttersworth focuses on the temporal elements in this painting and uses the backdrop of the stormy sky with a hint of light to dramatize the scene and illuminate the vessel. The light draws the eye to Italy. As in his other maritime paintings, Buttersworth shows perspective with the placement of the vessels and the piece overall encompasses his meticulous draftsmanship.
Buttersworth’s works can be found in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York, Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; and the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Virginia.