The Schooner “John Griffith”

James Bard (American, 1815–1897)
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions30 × 52 1/2 inches
CreditAnonymous Gift, 1958
Accession Number58.32.1

James Bard was a marine artist who specialized in oil and watercolor paintings of steamboats and schooners. He grew up in an era of great enthusiasm for the steamboat trade on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. The schooner was a common type of Hudson River vessel, and this particular ship was built in 1854 by George Collyer of the Collyer Brothers. Since the eighteenth century, schooners, which have two or more masts, had carried cargo and passengers between New York and Albany and along the Eastern Seaboard. Shipping, shipbuilding, and fishing were among the most important industries that developed on the Hudson. Wind-powered vessels remained a major part of river and coastal traffic for decades after the introduction of steam, even during the Civil War. The Union Navy purchased the John Griffith from its original Jersey City owner, Benjamin F. Woolsey, for use in the war effort on the sea.

During Bard’s long career, he produced roughly 4,000 paintings of ships, most of which were commissioned by the Collyer brothers, who built this ship, before the end of the Civil War. Commissions also came from other Hudson River shipbuilders, ship owners, and captains, and they were often set against Hudson River scenic backdrops such as the Palisades. Bard’s “ship portraits” were monumental depictions of various vessels with painstaking attention to accuracy. He executed his paintings in the studio, after he had taken careful measurements and rendered a detailed, annotated drawing. The finished painting owed its appearance more to Bard’s selective sense of overall design than to any scientific depiction of subject. Bard’s non-academic approach exemplifies folk art characteristics through his detailed drawing, flatness of composition, and bright coloration.