The Side Paddlewheel “Thomas Collyer”

James Bard (American, 1815–1897)
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions35 × 55 1/4 inches
CreditAnonymous Gift, 1958
Accession Number58.32.2

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 steamer depicted in this painting bears the name of its builder, Thomas Collyer (1818–1862), a leading member of a family of shipbuilders. It was considered to be the last and largest ship built by Collyer, who had a prolific career producing more than eighty ships. Shipping, shipbuilding, and fishing were among the most important industries that developed on the Hudson. During the Civil War, the federal government used the Thomas Collyer as a dispatch boat. In February 1865 President Lincoln boarded the vessel in secret at Annapolis, Maryland, to travel to Hampton, Virginia, for a meeting with a Confederate delegation about the possibility of a non-military ending to the conflict. Any hope of negotiation was clearly impossible, but the President praised the speed of the Hudson River steamer.

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 the subject. Bard’s non-academic approach exemplifies folk art characteristics through his detailed drawing, flatness of composition, and bright coloration.