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Blossom’s License

March 2023
1min read

Robert Uhl’s article on Christopher Blossom and the new generation of American marine artists (February/March 1985) brings to mind an important point that I like to emphasize with artists who attempt to portray real ships and waterfront scenes: They are no less responsible for their accuracy than are model-makers and authors. If they intend to depict a specific scene or ship, I say they are obliged to research their subject as would an author of a book or the builder of a model. Not all do, although many are very much aware of this and really do their homework.

Speaking of such, Blossom’s painting of the Ardnamurchan entering Port Blakely harbor certainly catches the spirit of the year 1903 and the Puget Sound shoreline. But he shows the sawmill much too clearly from the ship’s position. The mill lay way back up in the bay, past the recently abandoned shipyard of the Hall Brothers, which was to the right, and closer to the entrance or wider neck of the bay. From the ship’s position on the sound, you cannot see the sawmill at all. The lofty skysail yarder he shows in the distance, stern to the dock and bows pointed out, could be the German 4mbk [four-masted bark] Wandsbek . While the bones of this vessel now lie off the breakwater in Santa Rosalia, Mexico, the wheel hangs in the tween deck of the museum ship Balclutha in San Francisco.

And I get the clear impression from the other Blossom paintings shown that the main, fore, and crojack yards are much too high above the deck. But opportunities for error are endless, and one shouldn’t kick too much.

Robert Uhl replies : True, the Ardnamurchan’s lower yards do seem a mite high. Since she was headed into a lumber port, could that have been deliberate, to allow space for deck loads? When my ships (steamships) carried deck cargo, a lot of uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous adjustments had to be made. At first I thought Ardnamurchan had pole masts, but a photo in Tall Ships of Puget Sound shows her with conventional lower, topmast, topgallant, et cetera.

Christopher Blossom agrees you are right about the sawmill and pleads guilty to possible oversimplification. Still, painters like Turner, Homer, Whistler, and their ilk exercised artistic license in background detail to include an interesting structure or feature, improve composition, or give depth to a painting.

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