James Edward Buttersworth was one of the most significant marine painters of the 19th century. He was born in Middlesex County, England in 1817 to a family of marine artists. James studied under his father, Thomas Buttersworth. After producing brilliant paintings of principally British sailing ships at a young age, Buttersworth moved with his wife and family to the United States around 1845 and acquired an admiring following for his paintings of American ships and yachts. His work incorporated scrupulous and authentic detail, both of the boats and their settings. His skill at portraying the beautiful shapes of wind-filled sails, and the feeling of a sailboat moving through the water, has never been equaled.
When his career flourished, his work was reproduced into popular prints by Currier and Ives. Among the many artistic qualities that separate his work from other marine painters of the period is Buttersworth’s unparalleled ability to paint sailing vessels with great veracity within compositions that are dramatic, yet plausible.
The younger Buttersworth’s career can be divided into three periods: the first, or English period (until 1845) reflects his training and development within the grand English tradition of marine painting; the second, after the artist’s emigration to America, reflects the desires of his patrons who owned or sailed the sleek clipper ships, which captured the collective imagination of the nation in the wake of the California gold rush; and the third, during the decades after the Civil War, coincided with the rise of the new class of industrialist, who owned and sailed the magnificent sloops and schooners of the “Gilded Age.”
Buttersworth successfully exhibited his work at the American Art Union during the 1850s, and, soon after, became known for his depictions of the dramatic match races between competitors of the America’s Cup. James E. Buttersworth’s paintings can be found in most important collections of American Marine art.
Enticed by Prince Albert’s Great Exposition at the Crystal Palace, James Buttersworth returned to England for the season of 1851, focusing on events at Cowes, Isle of Wight that led to the August 22nd Race for the Hundred Pound Cup, won by AMERICA. Buttersworth’s sketches and paintings of that yachting competition provide the definitive record of events in that benchmark season of sailing.
During the twenty-four year period of America’s Cup racing from 1870 through 1893, there were eight seasons of racing. 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.