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2024 Winter Fine Art, Antiques & Jewelry (Day 1)

Sat, Jan 27, 2024 09:00AM EST
Lot 537

Watercolor of Captain Lawrence of The USS Chesapeake in Military Uniform, 19th C.

Estimate: $1,800 - $2,200

Bid Increments

Price Bid Increment
$0 $10
$100 $25
$500 $50
$1,000 $100
$3,000 $200
$5,000 $500
$10,000 $1,000
$20,000 $2,000
$50,000 $5,000
$100,000 $10,000

Watercolor portrait on wove paper depicting Captain James Lawrence (1781-1813) of the U.S.S. Chesapeake, shown in naval regalia while holding an apparently German nautical chart, with East abbreviated "O" for Ost, likely first quarter of 19th century. Enclosed in an oval foliate border with American flags, shield, eagle, cannon, anchor, sword, and bayonet at the base. French caption below identifies the sitter as "Capitaine Lawrence," with black border surrounding all. Signed and inscribed "Fredrico [spel?] pinxit," lower right. With 1953 John Hix "Strange As It Seems" newspaper comic relating to Lawrence affixed verso. Housed under plexiglass in a period ebonized wood frame within a gilt and maroon wood frame. Sight: 9 1/2" H x 7 1/2" W. Frame: 12 7/8" H x 10 7/8" W.

Note: While undated, the absence of Lawrence's famous quotation "Don't give up the ship" or any reference to his death from in this portrait suggests the possibility of it having been made during Lawrence's lifetime, between his promotion to Captain in March 1813 and his death in June 1813. According to the American Battlefield Trust, following his exploits in the War of 1812 Lawrence "was incredibly popular...with his peers, superiors, and subordinates," which makes the possibility of his having been represented in an amateur portrait during his lifetime likely. Alternatively, as evidenced by the use of French, this portrait could have been created in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the commandeered USS Chesapeake along with Lawrence's body was taken after his death.

Biographical Note: James Lawrence was born in New Jersey in 1781 and joined the United States Navy in 1798. He served as second-in-command with Stephen Decatur on the USS Enterprise during the raid at Tripoli harbor in 1804. Lawrence served on several other warships for the next decade and was promoted to Master Commandant in November of 1810, taking control of USS Hornet. During the War of 1812, Lawrence distinguished himself through several high-profile victories, including seizing $23,000 in gold from HMS Resolution and sinking the HMS Peacock. These successes earned him a promotion to captain in 1813 and command of the frigate Chesapeake, one of the Navy's most elite vessels.

Sailing out of the port of Boston in June 1813, Lawrence foolishly engaged HMS Shannon commanded by Captain Philip Broke which was at the time blockading the harbor. Although Lawrence's team was largely inexperienced, the crew of Shannon was well-seasoned, and guided by one of the Royal Navy's most accomplished captains. This mistake ended up costing Lawrence both the frigate and his life. Chesapeake was badly damaged and seized by the British, with Lawrence mortally wounded in just a few minutes of gunfire. As he was carried below deck to die, he famously called out a final order to his sailors: "Don't give up the ship!" These supposed final words were immortalized by friend and fellow naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry, who stitched them onto a flag and used it to lead his troops victoriously at the Battle of Lake Erie. (Source: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)

Condition

In overall good condition, colors remain bright. Dampstaining, especially to right edge, plus toning, soiling, and minor buckling. Loss to tip of upper right corner.

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Private South Carolina Collection.