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Illuminating the Sea: The Marine Paintings of James E. Buttersworth, 1817-1894

March 28 - July 5, 2009


Illuminating the Sea: The Marine Paintings of James E. Buttersworth, 1817-1894, a major retrospective exhibition highlighting the work of famed 19th-century marine artist James Edward Buttersworth, opens at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, on Saturday, March 28, 2009, and is on view through Sunday, July 5, 2009. A ship portraitist who meticulously illustrated America's Golden Age of Sail, Buttersworth captured a realistic view of sea and sky while incorporating the human element into his work. (right: James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894), "Magic" in New York Harbor. Mystic Seaport collection, 2007.53.20)

James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894) has long been recognized as a premier marine artist distinguished by his story-telling prowess, as well as his meticulous attention to detail with the brush and pallet. He began his career in England studying under his father, Thomas, himself a respected marine artist. In the late 1840s, the younger Buttersworth emigrated to the United States and became immersed in chronicling the maritime world of New York.

Upon his arrival, Buttersworth experienced America at the height of the Golden Age of Sail and steam transportation. Ships and boats were the principal means of transportation, and their owners, builders and shipmasters were the celebrities of the day. Buttersworth captured all this on his canvas and became one of the most prolific marine artists of the nineteenth century. His paintings detailed packet ships, ocean steamships, clipper ships, naval frigates, harbor craft and most especially, the glamorous world of American yachting.

In the 1850s, Buttersworth contributed numerous paintings and sketches to Currier & Ives depicting famous vessels and marine disasters for their popular lithographs. His clipper ship views, many of which were published as lithographs, and his America's Cup race paintings are widely respected for their combination of artistic and documentary qualities.

Paintings in the exhibition will span Buttersworth's entire career, beginning with his early British period in the 1840s and ending with the 1893 America's Cup series, completed a year before his death. Featured paintings of interest include "Sloop Yacht Haswell" and "Yacht Kate Off Boston Light," illustrating ships built for Charles Henry Mallory, one of Connecticut's most prosperous ship owners. (left: James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894), "Vigilant" and "Valkyrie II" Beating to Windward. Mystic Seaport collection, 2007.53.1)

Like his contemporary "luminist" and Hudson River School artists, Buttersworth excelled in the dramatic renderings of sea and sky, elevating the precisely detailed renderings of ships beyond document to art.

The exhibition features approximately 28 paintings, some of which were part of a recent gift to Mystic Seaport. In 2006, Donald C. McGraw Jr., grandson of McGraw-Hill Inc.'s cofounder, bequeathed his private collection of 24 Buttersworth paintings to Mystic Seaport. This bequest brought Mystic Seaport's total number of Buttersworth paintings to more than 50, making it the largest single public collection of the artist's work.

The Bruce Museum exhibition also includes a few paintings from two private collectors and scale models of the American Cup ships Valkyrie and Puritan. Public programs being presented at the Bruce Museum in conjunction with the exhibition include "Art and Artist Family Day" on Sunday, March 29, 2009, and "Set Sail on Long Island Sound," which features sail-painting and environmental workshops, on Sunday, June 14, 2009.

The show is organized by Mystic Seaport, the nation's leading maritime museum, and sponsored at the Bruce Museum by Northern Trust, the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund, and a Committee of Honor co-chaired by Nat Day and Tom Clephane with Honorary Chair L. Scott Frantz.

Mystic Seaport is the nation's leading maritime museum. Founded in 1929, the Museum is home to four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. Mystic Seaport also features a working preservation shipyard, a re-created 19th-century coastal village, exhilarating exhibits and a planetarium. The Museum's collection of more than two million artifacts includes more than 500 historic vessels and one of the largest collections of maritime photography in the country. For more information, visit www.mysticseaport.org.


(above: James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894), "Vigilant" and "Valkyrie II" in a Strong Breeze, 1893. Mystic Seaport collection, 2007.53.3)


(above: James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894), "Volunteer" Racing off Sandy Hook. Mystic Seaport collection, 2007.53.13)

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