oil on canvas
Purchased through the Florence and Lansing Porter Moore 1937 Fund, 2005.41
Occasionally the Hood is able to acquire a work that shares a remarkably close association with an object already in the collection. Once reunited, such pairings often reveal more than the sum of the individual works. This is the case when the Hood recently purchased the James Bard 1855 steamboat painting Menemon Sanford, for which it had owned the preliminary presentation drawing for more than forty years.
James Bard was America’s foremost painter of inland and coastal steamboats during the mid-nineteenth century, when such vessels provided a vital means of transportation and symbolized technological prowess in the popular imagination. After dissolving an early painting partnership with his twin brother around 1849, Bard worked successfully on his own for the next four decades. Over this period, his meticulously crafted ship portraits attracted a network of patrons among New York’s most prominent shipbuilders, captains, and owners (including Cornelius Vanderbilt)—clients who repeatedly commissioned him to depict their prized vessels.
An extraordinary aspect of Bard's practice is that he frequently made highly detailed, full-sized drawings of his paintings, most likely to present to a client for approval. In the Hood's drawing of the Menemon Sanford, built in 1854 by John Englis of Greenpoint, New York, Bard embellished the composition with an especially elegant, extended inscription across the top border that enumerates the ship’s builder, purser, engine builder, iron worker, joiner, and painter, while including, of course, his own name and street address for the convenience of prospective patrons. With the exception of a few details, the final painting remains close to the drawing and may have been based on a tracing taken from the earlier work. Bard reversed the angle of the drive mechanism’s rocker arm, added several of his curious gentlemen in frock coats to the deck, moved a reduced version of the drawing’s inscription to the lower corners of the canvas, and introduced hints of landscape in the distance. The painting also exhibits an especially delightful characteristic of Bard’s works on canvas. He painstakingly built up certain features of the ship—its masts and railings, for instance—with fine ridges of gesso and paint, thereby adding a compelling three-dimensional aspect to his otherwise flat support.
By viewing the drawing and painting side by side, we gain greater insight into the working methods, documentary precision, and promotional strategies of this talented, likely self-taught, artist. With the painstaking care and planning that James Bard evidenced in his full-sized drawings, he could create such vivid paintings as the Menemon Sanford, which responded to the mid-nineteenth-century demand for accurate and engaging images of prized steamships.
Barbara J. MacAdam
Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art
Last Updated: 11/14/06