Notes and Comments / Nouvelles brèves

New Acquisition at the New Brunswick Museum

Robert S. Elliot
New Brunswick Museum

1 Earlier this year, the New Brunswick Museum was fortunate to acquire another fine ship portrait to add to its large collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century examples. The purchase of the oil painting of the schooner Mola was made possible through generous financial assistance from the Minister of Communications under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, and the Viscount R. B. Bennett Trust Fund. This acquisition represents a significant addition to the Museum's growing collection of marine portraits.

2 The portrait depicts the New Brunswick-built, three-masted schooner Mola, which was constructed at Gardner's Creek by Archibald Sinclair and first registered at the port of Saint John in 1892. John Marshall Smith (and others) of Windsor, Nova Scotia owned the 350-ton vessel until it was sold to Mark Shaw of New York on 25 June 1901. Shaw was empowered to sell the Mola outside Canada and by 18 December 1902 the vessel had indeed changed hands again. The 1907-08 Lloyd's Register listed the schooner's name as the Minerva with the port of registry being Vera Cruz, Mexico. Since the Mola went aground at Chadwick, New Jersey, on 20 April 1901, the suggestion arises that this particular incident led directly to the decision to offer the schooner for sale.

Fig. 1 Antonio Jacobsen's Mola.
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(Courtesy New Brunswick Museum)

3 The portrait of the Mola depicts the ship aground at Chadwick. It was painted by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921) of West Hoboken, New Jersey. The work is important because it depicts a rather typical New Brunswick-built schooner of the late nineteenth century. However, despite the fact that schooners were very common in the Maritime provinces throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, relatively few appear in ship portraits of the period. The question of why that was the case is open to speculation. The painting, furthermore, is a superior example of the work of Antonio Jacobsen and a more unusual depiction of a specific sailing vessel. Normally the vessel would have been shown side-on rather than in a stern-quarter view as is the case with this portrait.

4 The existence of a dated photograph (20 April 1901) of the grounded Mola at the Mariner's Museum at Newport News, Virginia, provides strong proof that Jacobsen painted his portrait from the surviving photograph, or a very similar photograph, since the photograph and the painting are almost identical, with one interesting exception. The painting includes a Merritt and Chapman tug in the background while the photograph does not. This seems to indicate that either the owner of the tug company, or perhaps the tugboat's master, commissioned the portrait.