Alexander Charles Stuart's portrait of the steamboat New York, a jewel of the Hudson River Day Line traveling the route between New York City and Albany, is an evocative portrait of this glamorous vessel of late nineteenth-century river travel.
Commercial steamboating on the Hudson River began with Robert Fulton´s successful steamer trip from New York to Albany on August 14th, 1807. By 1840, there were over one hundred steamboats navigating the Hudson. These vessels were regarded as romantic and adventurous, and introduced quick, reliable travel along the river. With the opening of the Erie, Champlain, and Delaware & Hudson canals, steamboat traffic increased tremendously. The Erie Canal established New York City as a center of finance and shipping, provided cheap transportation for Midwestern farm products, and offered an easy passage for immigrants to the Great Lakes region.
Of the many Hudson River steamboat lines, the Hudson River Day Line was the most prominent and dependable. Their steamboats were known for elegance and speed, and provided the most enjoyable way to travel the Hudson River. No one could claim to have seen America without seeing the Hudson River, and the only way to see the Hudson River properly was from the deck of a Day Liner steamboat. In the 1880s and 1890s, the Day Line promoted their steamboats as "strictly first-class -- no freight." A local newspaper reporting about the Day Line made the following claim: "With rare exceptions, the passengers are nice people. The peanut and sausage eaters; the beer drinkers; the pipe smokers; the expectorators; the loud talkers; the life long enemies of soap and water, are never seen here." Another newspaper reported that "the Albany day boats are doing an unusually large business… The excursionists are of the better class -- people who take more interest in the beauties of nature than they do in whisky." Hudson River travelers were very proud of their steamboats, "the most elegant in the world," and thought of them as social assets. Important foreign guests were taken for steamboat rides soon after their arrival in New York.
In the 1880s, the company expanded with two new steamers, the Albany and the New York:
"The Day Boats are the New York and Albany, new and splendid specimens of shipcraft, with iron hulls 300 feet in length, accommodating 1,500 passengers, and claimed to be the fastest steamboats in the world. They were built exclusively for carrying passengers, and are the finest boats ever constructed for the business.The spacious cabins are finished in highly polished woods, handsomely paneled, and are furnished luxuriously and adorned with statuary and paintings by celebrated artists. The dining rooms are on the main deck, where the traveler can enjoy an excellent dinner, which is served on the European plan, and lose nothing of the view of this most charming of American rivers... A pleasant feature is an orchestra on each steamer."
(From Lake George and Lake Champlain, A Book of To-Day, a guidebook by S. R. Stoddard, 1889.
This painting shows the New York in the last years of the nineteenth century. The artist, Alexander Charles Stuart, was an accomplished ship portraitist and marine painter who worked primarily in navy yards and shipyards along the Delaware River, as well as in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Born in 1831 in Scotland, Stuart grew up in Glasgow, then a major shipbuilding capital, and acquired early drafting skills as an apprentice to a machinist. He also acquired first-hand knowledge of all things marine during his tenure in the Royal Navy, serving in Australia, India, and in the Crimean War. Stuart emigrated to Chester, Pennsylvania in 1861, and served in the Marines, then joined the Union Navy in 1863, when he began to create ship paintings and watercolors. After resigning from the Navy in 1866, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, and worked primarily as an artist and illustrator for the merchant shipbuilding firms of John Roach & Son and Harlan & Hollingsworth in Wilmington, Delaware.
The work depicts an important steamboat from the golden age of steamer travel, and is a fine example of Stuart's talents.