Thomas Willis: Shamrock III and Reliance Crossing the Line, America's Cup, 1903Thomas Willis: Shamrock III and Reliance Crossing the Line, America's Cup, 1903

Thomas Willis: Shamrock III and Reliance Crossing the Line, America’s Cup, 1903

£ 18,500.00






Canvas height: 20 inches (51 cm) Width: 36 inches (91.5cm) Framed height: 26 inches (66cm) Width: 42 inches (107cm)

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Thomas Willis: Shamrock III and Reliance Crossing the Line, America’s Cup, 1903. This mixed media picture is oil on canvas with silk and velvet fabric embroidered with silk thread. It shows the 1903 America’s Cup yacht race outside New York Harbour between Reliance and Shamrock III. The spectator boat Edward J. Bergwind occupies the centre of the picture. The scene is meticulously detailed with stitched silk rigging, a velvet hull overlaid with silk to depict the spray of the waves and a velvet smokestack with a tuft of silk streaming behind as smoke. Signed and dated ‘T. Willis, N.Y., 1904’. American. 

Provenance: The daughter of the tugboat’s owner and thence by descent. 

Thomas Willis (1850-1925) was a successful New York silk merchant. When he became an artist in 1880, he incorporated his knowledge of silk textiles into his creations. He was commissioned by the New York Yacht Club to produce ship portraits and thus became the artist of choice for many wealthy owners. 

As well as the unusual mixture of oil paint and fabric used to create this image, the composition is striking. Paintings of America’s Cup races normally focus on the racing yachts and yet the vessel depicted front and centre of this piece is the steam tug, Edward J. Berwind, owned by Berwind-White Coal Company. Edward Julius Berwind (1848-1936) was the founder of the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company. Having served in the US Navy, he was a naval aide at the White House during the Grant administration, a philanthropist, a lifelong friend of King Edward VII and a member of the New York Yacht Club. 

When this picture was discovered on the American Antiques Roadshow the guest said it had been commissioned from Thomas Willis by her forebears, as her maternal great-great-grandfather owned tugboat companies in the New York Harbour at that time. The appraiser is recorded saying ‘This is far and away superior to any work by this artist we’ve seen. I think this was Thomas Willis’s masterpiece’. 

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