Antonio Jacobsen, a luminary painter in the field of American folk art, has long been recognized for his unsurpassed contributions to America's maritime history. He recorded domestic and international ships as they passed from the age of sail to the age of steam power, documenting a revolution in naval technology. This splendid example is one of two different steamships named Philadelphia that the artist painted. The first of these vessels was built in 1885 by William Cramp & Son of Philadelphia, and was owned by the Red D Line of Wilmington, Delaware. This example shows the second Philadelphia painted by Jacobsen. Built in 1889 by J.J. Thompson of Glasgow, Scotland, for the International Merchant Marine Company, it sailed out of New York.
Jacobsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on November 2, 1850, and he emigrated to New York in the early 1870's in search of a better living. At this point, Jacobsen never imagined that his passion for art would eventually gain him both wealth and acclaim. Like many other immigrants, he went to New York City's Battery Park looking for work, passing his days sketching the ships that sailed in and out of the harbor. Within a short period of time a representative from Marvin Safe Company noticed his drawings and offered him a job decorating safes. His ability as an artist was further recognized, and he soon began to receive commissions from sea captains and ship owners and eventually Steamship companies to record their entire fleet. The Old Dominion Line, the Fall River Line and the White Star Line are some of the steamship companies that commissioned him to paint portraits of all the ships in their respective fleets. The Clyde Line, the Black Ball Line, the Mallory Line, the Anchor Line and Red Star Line also sought his services, making him perhaps the most sought-after marine painter on the East Coast. The acclaim that Jacobsen received from all these commissions helped establish him as the foremost chronicler of American shipping in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As the years passed, Jacobsen's style became more progressive, and he depended less on commissions and more on his own creativity. His rigid style softened and he painted imaginative marine works including racing scenes, shipwrecks, and some ocean views. Works by Jacobsen can be seen in most major collections of maritime art, including the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the Mariners Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and Seaman's Bank for Savings. This splendid original oil painting of the steamship Philadelphia is a masterful example of his celebrated work.