The presence of William Bradford’s ‘Dashing Wave’ clipper ship off Boston Light, painted in 1855 when the ship was only two years old, is a stark, almost minimal reproduction of this towering feat of engineering. Bradford, one of the leading Romantic painters of nineteenth-century America, was well-known for his paintings of seascapes, marine events, and arctic vistas. Having grown up in Massachusetts, ‘Dashing Wave’ clipper ship off Boston Light is an early work, dating from the time the artist made a living selling portraits of famous ships. Bradford quickly made a name for himself for his stunning Romantic reproductions of the New England, Nova Scotia, and Labrador coastlines, and he amassed enough funds to embark on a series of arctic expeditions. During one of his visits to England, he was so well received by the burgeoning community of explorers that he was given a commission to paint for Queen Victoria. When the artist returned to the United States, he, like many others from the 1870s to the end of the century, made a series of journeys through the frontier lands of the wild west, compiling sketches of the scenes he saw there.
Bradford was frequently associated with the Hudson River School, a proud bastion of nineteenth-century American art exemplified by the spiritual wanderings of Academy-influenced Romantic painters. The group dominated much of American painting until the modernist era, centred on the stunning surroundings of New England. The ‘Dashing Wave’ clipper ship off Boston Light could not be more of a departure from their style, appearing as an unfussy, self-assured reproduction of this quick clipper’s likeness. This ship, built by Fernald & Pettigrew in Portsmouth, was first commanded by the legendary Captain John B. Fisk and represents a unique era in American maritime history.