James Edward Buttersworth

(1817-1894)

James Edward Buttersworth was born in Middlesex, England in 1817. Between 1845 and 1847, he immigrated to the United States and settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey. Although his heritage is unproven, it is believed that his grandfather was Thomas Buttersworth (1768-1828) and his father Thomas Buttersworth, Jr., both renowned marine painters. Whatever his geneology, it is clear that Buttersworth was well schooled in the English tradition of marine painting.

According to one source, Buttersworth “brought many of his paintings with him from England to sell, and the Currier and Ives company purchased some of them to convert into lithographs. He benefited from the wide exposure this association gave his work. Another break came when he exhibited and sold paintings through the American Art Union from 1850 to 1852 in New York City, and, as a result, was commissioned to make a series of drawings for the yacht race of 1851 in England.”

Buttersworth ranks among the top nineteenth century marine painters; his paintings of ships include images of racing clipper ships, steamers, and yachts. Buttersworth’s career spanned sixty years and he lived long enough to depict the early steamship era. Nearly six hundred of his paintings have been located. Buttersworth supported a large family in West Hoboken, New Jersey, with a view of New York harbor. He died there in 1894.

James Buttersworth was an English painter who specialized in maritime art, and is considered among the foremost American ship portraitists of the nineteenth century. His paintings are particularly known for their meticulous detail, dramatic settings, and grace in movement.

Born in London, England in 1817, to a family of maritime artists. Being that his grandfather was Thomas Buttersworth, and his father was Thomas Buttersworth, Jr., it is obvious he inherited a talent and was well schooled in the tradition of English marine painting. A meticulous draftsman, Buttersworth had an eye for exact detail, and painted clipper ships and great sailing yachts as well as historical conflicts with battleships. The paintings are usually made dramatic by stormy skies and churning ocean waves.

Between 1845 and 1847, he emigrated to the United States and settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey and maintained a Brooklyn studio. He brought many of his paintings with him from England, and Currier and Ives Company purchased some of them to convert into lithographs. He benefited from the wide exposure this association gave his work.

He returned to England in 1851 for the Race for the Hundred Pound Cup that took place on August 22, 1851. His sketches and paintings of that yachting competition provide the definitive record of events in that benchmark season of sailing.

Buttersworth’s paintings of the 1893 Vigilant vs. Valkyrie II Cup match, done one year before his death, completed the chronicling of America’s Cup races by oil painting just before the advent of successful photographic imagery. About 600 of his pieces survive today, which are found in private collections and museums all over the United States.

James Edward Buttersworth’s paintings are particularly known for meticulous detail, dramatic settings and a graceful sense of movement.

Buttersworth was born in London 1817. He is believed to be the grandson of Thomas Buttersworth, Sr. and the son of Thomas Buttersworth, Jr., both noted maritime artists. He moved to the United States in the late 1840s, at the height of the Golden Age of Sail, when ship builders and captains were the celebrities of the day. Buttersworth settled in Hoboken, New Jersey, in a home with a view of New York Harbor, and dedicated his career to capturing the maritime world, painting nearly 600 portraits of yachts, steamers and racing clipper ships.

He garnered a reputation for accurate representations of sailing vessels, yet his work always exhibited a certain majesty and romanticism. Vessels were frequently portrayed on the diagonal, with elongated hulls and full sails, to create a sense of speed and motion. He prowled the waters of New York Harbor in a little boat, which enabled him to paint from the perspective of being on the water. He frequently heightened the storytelling aspect of his work with low horizon lines, dramatic skies and stormy seas.

Many of his works were chosen by Currier and Ives as subjects for lithographs. His images were also used in magazines and newspapers that reported the yachting events of the day.

Buttersworth is recognized today as the definitive ship portraitist of his era, and his work can be seen in public and private collections throughout the United States.

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