China Trade Painting American Ship Undine Ca 1830

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AMERICAN SHIP “UNDINE”

OIL ON SILK

Ca 1820 -1830.

 
 
 
 

Oil on silk                                                                                          19
th Century
Unframed 16 1/2″ L x 12″ H                                                         
 Framed
  22 1/2″ x 18 1/2″
Unsigned 
 
 
Presented is a China Trade painting
of the full rigged ship UNDINE* flying all her sails, but the furled mizzen course. She is sailing close hauled on the
port tack and majestically slicing through the brilliant blue water. There are a number of other sailing vessels
in the background, one flying a French flag, and the other an American. A city with towering buildings is to the
left of the viewer and has a French flag flying. UNDINE, whose name appears on her trailboard is approaching
a major port which is typical of China Trade ship portraits. From the truck of her foremast is the Dutch flag which would
indicate the port she is off was of that nationality. But this is an ambiguity considering the flag on the tower and
the small vessel being French. Only the artist knows the reason for this paradox.
 
A long navy style commissioning pennant streams from her
main mast which may designate this vessel as being in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Merchant ships were authorized by
the Secretary of the Navy to fly this flag. 
The practice in European Navies
dates back to the 17th century, stemming from an incident between the warring Dutch and English Navies. In one particular
engagement, Maarten Harpertszoon Troomp, the Dutch Admiral, hoisted a broom at his masthead to indicate his intention to sweep
the English from the sea. The English Admiral then hoisted a horsewhip, indicating his intention to chastise the insolent
Dutchman. Ever since that time, the narrow “coachwhip” pennant, symbolizing the original horsewhip has been the distinctive
mark of a man-of-war. This tradition of so designating ships of war has been adopted by all nations. The United States
Navy commissioning pennant is blue at the hoist with a horizontal red and white stripe at the fly and varies in length
with the size of the ship.
 
The 16 star American flag, flying from her mizzen is known
to have been used at sea, and likely dates the scene as around 1817. The mountainous terrain makes one think of the coast
of France or the French East Indies which included Borneo. The sky is a brilliant blue with many fair weather clouds. A truly
majestic ship done in the China Trade style and unsigned.
 
The painting is under glass which allows the silk
cloth upon which it is painted to be seen and has a black reverse painted border. The molding appears to be original.
The condition of the painting is excellent.
 

* UNDINE, A mythical female water nymph capable of acquiring a soul through marriage with a mortal. Also spelled Ondine. Undine is a mythological figure of European
tradition, a water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her.
Derived from the Greek figures known as Nereids, attendants of the sea god Poseidon, Undine was first mentioned in the
writings of the Swiss author Paracelsus, who put forth his theory that there are spirits called “undines” who inhabit the
element of water. A version of the myth was adapted as the romance Undine by Baron Fouqué in 1811, and librettos based
on the romance were written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816 and Albert Lortzing in 1845. Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas
et Mélisande
(1892) was in part based on this myth, as was Ondine (1939), a drama by Jean Giraudoux. The myth was
also the basis of a ballet choreographed and performed by Margot Fonteyn.

The word is from the Latin unda, meaning “wave” or “water.” Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

THE SHIP UNDINE: It is recorded that the U.S.
Flag ship UNDINE of 253 tonns, departed St. Elbe, Portugal on 18 June 1832 for Plymouth, MA carrying immigrants. And
again on 1 January 1836, from Bristol, England to Philadelphia, PA.

 
PROVENANCE: The painting is from the
collection of Mr. Townsend Hornor, a distinguished historian, sailor, philanthropist and businessman. He served on numerous
boards including the Woodshole Oceanographic Institute, former chairman, Cape Cod Hospital Foundation, former president, the
Osterville Historic Society, a director of the Herreshoff Marine Museum, former chairman of the Naval War College Foundation
as well as many others.
           Plumb bow with graceful billethead
                       After
section

 Dutch flag, Naval pennant, and American ensign

 
CHINA TRADE PAINTINGS:
There were numerous artists who painted  portraits of Western vessels throughout the Orient and some migrated to
Europe to practice their craft. Most did not sign their works. Their paintings were somewhat flat in their style, and more
simply executed than European and American artists. Frequently the ships and landscapes in the backgrounds gave an indication
of where they were painted. The paintings may have age crackles in their varnish, and many of them are in poor condition
requiring restoration. They were usually presented with a carved wooden frame, in the so called Chinese Chippendale.
 
 

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