An American Ship in Distress
1779 - 1851
An American Ship in Distress, 1841
Oil on canvas
36 x 53 3/4 in.
Regarded as America's first marine artist, Birch is known for his paintings of the early American shipping industry and for a series devoted to the naval engagements of the War of 1812. He was also drawn to shipwrecks, the subject of some of his most distinctive paintings.
In this unusually large work, a violent storm has damaged the masts, sails, and rigging of a ship. As the crew lowers a lifeboat from the stern, a rescue boat approaches from the right, and a sidewheeler and another vessel come to the crew's aid from the left. The transparency and volume of the waves, the changing weather, and the other accurate details persuasively convey the plight of the ship and her crew. Birch was an admirer of Claude-Joseph Vernet, who also painted stormy coastal scenes and whose Seaport at Sunset is part of the museum's collection.