Fine Arts Museum News

Currier & Ives and the Majesty of the Sea: Clipper Ships and Steamboats

Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts

January 17, 2011

Images of majestic clipper ships, powerful steamboats and great maritime races will be on view from January 25 through June 26 at the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in the exhibition Currier & Ives and the Majesty of the Sea: Clipper Ships and Steamboats.

The exhibition will feature 28 hand-colored 19th-century lithographs from the museum’s permanent collection.

Currier & Ives created many prints symbolizing American progress and prosperity. Many of their images portrayed the beauty and power of technological innovation, and clipper ships and steamboats incorporated both qualities. During the 1850s, when clipper ships were popular, Currier & Ives published over 75 images of the vessels. Several artists who worked for Currier & Ives specialized in maritime painting, including James Butterworth, Frances (Fannie) Flora Bond Palmer, and Charles Parsons.

Built largely to satisfy the urge for speed and without much concern for cargo capacity, the clipper ship had a celebrated but short-lived career.  It captivated America for only a few years as steamboats replaced wind-powered boats. Currier & Ives produced many images reflecting this new industrial trend. Steamboat races, boats on the Mississippi River and ship disasters were all popular themes. Soon public fascination with the steam locomotive led Currier & Ives to replace maritime imagery with prints of the iron horse.      

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