Ship: Valparaiso, c. 1855
Oil on canvas, 24
X 36" (60.96 x 91.44 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Museum purchase, S28-0-122

Considered among the foremost American ship portraitists of the nineteenth century, James E. Buttersworth was born in Middlesex County, England in 1817 and studied painting with Thomas Buttersworth, the noted British marine painter. He moved to the United States around 1845 and settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey. He is also recorded as having had a studio in Brooklyn in 1854.
Through the 1850s, Buttersworth developed a prominent reputation as a ship portraitist. He is known, in retrospect, for his precisely drawn and finely detailed renderings of the sleek new clipper ships which were circling the globe in record-breaking times during this period. Underscoring both his importance as an artist and the wide popularity of these extraordinary new vessels, Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives modeled numerous popular lithographs on his fine paintings executed between 1847 and 1865. Buttersworth also exhibited his work frequently throughout the 1850s at the American Art Union.
In Ship: Valparaiso, while the detailed rendering the vessel's sails and rigging clearly define this image as a ship portrait, there is also a narrative element indicated by other vessels in the distance suggesting race, typical of Buttersworth's approach to this genre Buttersworth painted another very closely related version of this sleekly elegant 1,158 ton clipper ship built at Newburyport, Massachusetts by John Currie Jr. in 1863. The Butler Institute Ship: Valparaiso an the other version, also Ship: Valparaiso (n.d., private collection), differ only in minor details-the placement of the gulls, the handling of the water and sky, and the treatment of the ship's reflection in the water.