James Bard


(1815–1897) and
were twin brothers born into the family of a laborer living in lower Manhattan who, by the middle of the nineteenth century, had established the ship portrait as amainstay of American marine painting. Though it had European roots, the American ship portrait had, by that time, assumed its own style and character.The brothers drew their first ship portrait as a joint effort, when they were twelve years old. Their first works were executed in watercolor; in fact, virtually all of the pictures identified as the work of J. & J.Bard are somewhat naive drawings in watercolor. John seems to have faded from the partnership about 1850; he died in poverty a few years later. James, however, had developed both skill and a clientele, and his trade flourished over the next forty years. He also extended his reach beyond the watercolor medium, and many of his most significant paintings were done in oil or gouache.The form of the ship portrait is dictated in large measure by the demands of those who commission them. Ship owners tend to demand pictorial accuracy above allelse. Those who go to sea know that imprecision can be fatal; a single piece of rigging out of place can spell the difference between survival and death. There is no pleasure to be found in looking at a painting that memorializes such errors. James Bard had learned this lesson well.Bard’s work centered on the steamboats that plied the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. While New York harbor was the maritime center of the country, bustling with ships of all nations, an entirely different fleet served its inland transportation needs. These steamboats were the technological marvels of their day,competing for pride of place in speed and luxury. Through family connections and longstanding associations, James Bard painted most of the river and sound steamboats that were built in or served New York throughout the nineteenth century. Other painters served the markets for oceangoing ships and yachtsmen, butthe riverboats were Bard’s territory.When a client demanded a ship’s accuracy, it seems reasonable to suppose that the artist might have looked to the naval architect’s construction drawings as hissource. That supposition was applied to Bard’s painting for many years, but close examination of surviving drawings now makes it clear that the artist relied on his owncareful measurements of the vessels themselves before drawing their forms and details. For a price of twenty to twenty-five dollars a painting, Bard spent at least aweek measuring and drawing; he then reviewed his meticulous drawing with the owner, and, after recording his corrections, executed the final painting. The results musthave been good, as most of his work was commissioned by return clients. With crisp detailing, bold broadside views, and billowing flags emblazoned with the ships’names, these paintings pleased their owners and set a standard for their age.
See also
Maritime Folk Art; Painting, American Folk
Peluso, Anthony J.Jr. J. & J.Bard,
Picture Painters.
New York, 1977.
The Bard Brothers: Painting America Under Steam and Sail.
New York, 1997.Sands, John O. “The River Bards.”
FMR Magazine,
no. 5 (October 1984): 49–64