The merchant clipper ship depicted in this drawing was typical in the apogee of full sail ships. It is the type of ship that is precisely what we romantically envision as a white cloud of sails on the sea, with a blue-sky background, of course. This British ship was launched in 1842 and sold to German owners in 1882. She survived a cyclone at Calcutta in 1864 but was wrecked off the coast of Denmark in 1882, with survivors having to cling to the submerging mizzen-mast until rescued by a Danish lifeboat.
Sail only ships were gradually being replaced by more technically advanced ones by the time this ship was built; first by those with a combination of sails and steam engines with huge paddles, then half-sail/half steam ships driven by propellers, and finally by steam-only propeller ships. (This was before the advent of diesel engines.) Wooden sail ships actually had for a time a speed advantage over early iron-hulled steam ships until technological innovations closed the gap. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 further hastened the demise of these ships because it was found they were unwieldy going through it.
This sepia drawing was done at a time when artists would go down to the docks and paint the ships coming and going and sell for a modest sum on the dock. In this group of itinerant "pier painters," some were quite talented, producing striking images. This drawing is proof of that. Upon close inspection, there is an extraordinary amount of detail to the masts, sails and rigging. One flag flies high up on the main mast, while signal flags fly at the rear of the ship. In the background is another sailing ship.
Michelangelo wrote and drew in sepia ink, and the use of the distinctive reddish-brown ink derived from cuttlefish and squid has been around since Roman times, but it reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its use seems particularly appropriate for a variety of uses, and even today digital cameras often are equipped to add a sepia tone to photographs in order to add character. In this drawing it gives the subject a unique appearance that is definitely antique.
The artist inscribed the following information on the bottom: “The Clipper Ship ‘Renown,’ 1100 tons, Mssrs. Green & Co.” The Green family of Bristol not only built wooden ships but operated them in the East and West Indies. On the bottom right-hand corner appears the artist’s name, but it is not readable to me. I have listed separately a sepia drawing of the steam/sail ship, “City of Brussels,” that would pair nicely with this drawing as they are of the same size, framed alike and face each other.
The drawing is housed in a pretty Victorian walnut frame with a large beaded edging. The frame has wonderful patination and a rich, warm brown color and patina. Although not original to the piece, it is approximately the same age as the sepia drawing. The frame retains is old bubbled and wavy glass.
It is in excellent condition, with no tears and only minor foxing. It must have been a treasured piece in its owner’s home all these years. The frame is in excellent condition as well. The frame also retains its old bubbled and wavy glass.
It measures 8-5/8 inches wide and 5-3/4 inches high, including the frame.