Kennedy Galleries Inc., New York
Private Collection, Texas
This detailed and entrancing marine scene shows the Vicar of the Bray, a magnificent double-masted sailing ship anchored in the Yerba Buena Cove, which is today the eastern, Oakland-facing side of San Francisco. The ship was launched in 1841 and built by Robert Hardy in the English shipbuilding port of Whitehaven. The scene looks lively, but there was likely an ominous mood aboard the Vicar—it became a “ghost ship” as soon as it hit port in San Francisco, the result of most of the crew deserting to look for their fortunes during the 1849 California Gold Rush. The ship’s commander, Captain C.B. Duggan, had to wait in port to find replacement sailors.
The artist of the work, John Stobart, is considered to be one of the finest contemporary marine painters in the world. He took an interest in boats and the ocean in the 1950s after traveling by ship from London to South Africa. He later relocated from England to Canada, where he earned a living painting boats on the St. Lawrence River. By the 1960s he turned all his attention to historic ships, and he hasn’t looked back. “At first glance, it may seem ironic that it took an English-born marine artist to bring the story of 19th-century American ports to life, but, like many recent arrivals, John Stobart embraced his new home with enthusiasm and a drive to make his own contribution to its culture,” writes J. Russell Jinishian in Bound for Blue Water: Contemporary American Marine Art. “His passion has helped preserve a portrait of maritime America that was in danger of being lost.”