- Historic Sites
A Painter Of Floating Property
Antonio Jacobsen, the most prolific of all American marine artists
April/may 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 3
Jacobsen was certainly the most businesslike of his fellow ship portraitists and, in his heyday, the most financially successful. He usually signed his work with his address as well as his name and received many orders as a result. As his sons, Carl and Alphonse, grew older, they helped color in the sea and sky on mass orders. It was said that he kept a backlog of semifinished pictures, ready for him to add the ship, which may have been true in his later career. He always salvaged what he could; for instance, when the Titanic , which he had already blocked out, went down, he was able to change her to the Olympic .
During his prime the artist charged between $100 and $150 for his paintings, the price depending on the amount of detail and time spent. But by the turn of the century, lithography had taken over most of the market, and Jacobsen’s steamship commissions began to wane. He switched to picturing sailing ships, pilot schooners, tugboats, and yachts. Often he would deliver ten or fifteen paintings at a time to a dealer. Once he sold ten pictures to a Fulton Street gallery owner for a total of $150. Right after the Panic of 1907 he sold a picture for five dollars. Low prices, falling demand, and ill health all hurt the quality of his work—and the subsequent reputation of the man known in his own time as the “Audubon of Steam Vessels.” He continued to paint until nine months before his death in 1921.
In one of his sketchbooks Antonio Jacobsen had written in Spencerian script a farewell to an era he had loved and seen die: “Gone is the Clipper, with her studding sails and skysails, and moon sail and ringtail driver and Jamie Greens and Jib-o-jibs. No more than a painted ship on a painted ocean remains of that great Merchant Marine …”
He did his part to leave us, at least, a painted ship that was true to life.