Class of 2020: James E. Buttersworth
Published on August 17th, 2020
Among the Class of 2020 to be inducted on September 12 is renowned 19th century maritime painter James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894), profiled in this tribute by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:
James E. Buttersworth (JEB) was a prolific artist who created beautifully detailed action paintings of yachts under sail. His works featured the America’s Cup races, oceanic scenes, sailing vessels of all sizes, and incredibly intricate works that seem to gain in importance as the decades pass.
Buttersworth was born in Middlesex County, England and moved to the United States around 1846-1847. His father, Thomas (1768-1842), was also a noted marine painter. JEB’s most productive years were between 1850-1870. During this period, he lived in West Hoboken (now Union City), New Jersey and created most of his work in a studio in Brooklyn. He never became wealthy but written reports state that he lived a comfortable life.
JEB had a special talent for creating active water with realistic colors. His yachts always seemed to be sailing swiftly in dramatically big waves. His paintings at the time sold for $25-$40 depending on the size of his works. Today, any of his paintings sell for $100,000 and often considerably more.
Buttersworth was a very active painter during an age when photography first started to appear. His mediums included oil, watercolor, pencil and ink drawings. After immigrating to the USA, he worked for Currier & Ives for a number of years.
Rudolph J. Schaefer (1900-1982), who managed his family’s large brewing company, was a collector and chronicler of JEB. In 1967, Schaefer built a replica of the schooner “America.” and produced a historically accurate film about “America” that is now owned and distributed by the Mystic Seaport Museum.
Schaefer was enamored with James E. Buttersworth and he owned many of JEB’s paintings. In 1975 he wrote a book, “J.E. Buttersworth – 19th-Century Marine Painter.” In 2009, Schaefer’s surviving wife, Janet and Andrew W. German, published a second volume on JEB. The two books document 1200 of Buttersworth’s works. They estimated that about three hundred more works have never been found, and sadly his working sketches seem to be lost.
Schaefer points out that “there is tremendous variation in his works.” You can study one of his paintings closely, come back a few days later and see something new. The late marine artist, John Mecray, once explained that a good painting should get better when your eyes move closer to the painting and this is true of every JEB painting. It should be noted that Buttersworth was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1999.
Many of JEB’s works are owned by private collectors, but happily, we can see Buttersworth’s original works at many museums and yacht clubs. A few on the list include: New York Yacht Club, Peabody Essex Museum, New York State Historical, Museum, Penobscot Marine Museum, Princeton University Museum of Art, South Street Seaport, Museum, Yale University Art Museum, Mystic Seaport, Mariners’ Museum, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
James Edward Buttersworth left a special collection of images that deserve to be studied and treasured.
Due to COVID-19, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame’s induction process will recognize the Class of 2020 in a virtual celebration on September 12 at 6:00pm EDT. To watch the event online, click here.