James Bard (1815-1897), New York
oil on canvas
30” x 50”; period molded and gilded frame by association
Signed and dated lower right “Drawn & Painted by James Bard N.Y. 1856/ 162 Perry Street”
The America was commissioned, built and owned by the prominent African-American businessman Samuel B. Schuyler (1811-1894) of Albany, NY. Schuyler’s father, Captain Samuel (1781-1842), noted in the 1809 city directory as a “Blackman”, began his career as a skipper along the Albany waterfront. Schuyler was part of the Afro-Albanian community, which comprised approximately 10-20 percent of the population and was an important part of the transportation/ trade industry on which the city was built. Over the next twenty years, the elder Schuyler would amass real estate holdings running two blocks along Pearl Street toward the waterfront, as well as founding the Schuyler Towboat Company, which his sons would take over and develop into one of the most successful and prominent of the Hudson shipping lines. The younger Schuyler became one of Albany’s wealthiest businessmen, who lived in a grand three-bay-wide house on Ashgrove Place from 1848 until his death in 1894.
The America was one of only seven side-wheel towboats, and the third largest, built exclusively for trade purposes; most similar vessels were converted passenger steamers employed to ferry travelers along the Hudson River. Bard painted at least five versions of the ship; other examples are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Mariners Museum, the Albany Institute of History and Art and the Senate (NY) House Museum. Here, the America is rendered with the artist’s trademark attention to detail and brilliance of color that are so prized by collectors. The men on deck, featuring the Schuyler line’s distinctive red walking beams, perform their various duties while the various flags and pennants billow above. The ship’s name, spelled out in bold letters beneath a spread-wing eagle, anchors the painting and reflects Samuel Schuyler’s gratitude for the country in which his family was able to succeed and prosper.