Timothy Franklin Ross Thompson (British, born 1951)
America and her rivals on the Start Line, 22nd August 1851 signed 'T.F.Thompson' (lower left) oil on canvas 76.2 x 122cm (30 x 48 in).
PROVENANCE: Commissioned by the vendor from the artist, c. 1989. Private collection, U.K.
Recognised by aficionados everywhere as the most famous racing yacht ever constructed, America achieved a reputation for herself which became the stuff of legend. Her remarkable win at Cowes in the summer of 1851 guaranteed her a place in yachting history and thereby established the race which not only took her name but which still awards as its prize one of the world's most coveted sporting trophies.
America herself was built in response to a British suggestion that one of the fast pilot-boats for which New York harbour was renowned should be sent to England to compete in the various summer regattas being staged as part of the festivities surrounding the Great Exhibition of 1851. In due course this proposal came to the notice of a group of New York businessmen who approached George Steers to build them a suitable schooner modelled on the design of the city's distinctive pilot-boats. When the news became public, the Royal Yacht Squadron immediately invited the New York Yacht Club to bring the boat to Cowes that August and thus the stage was set for one of yachting's most historic encounters. Christened America when launched on 3rd May 1851, the new 170-ton vessel was built of five different woods, mostly white oak, and measured 95 feet stem to stern. Leaving New York for Europe in late June, she arrived off Cowes on 1st August having called at Le Havre to receive the final coat of black paint on her hull, hence her enduring nickname of "the low black schooner".
The race which was to make America famous was scheduled for 10 o'clock on the morning of 22nd August and eighteen yachts had entered against the stranger from New York, though three dropped out beforehand. The 58-mile course was around the Isle of Wight and, after a disappointing start, America took the lead at about 11.30am., an advantage she maintained throughout the day. Crossing the finishing line at 8.37pm. that evening, she was only 8 minutes ahead of her nearest rival Aurora but that was more than enough to ensure her immortality; as the judges' flag came down, the legend was born.
This splendid panorama of the start of the great race by the talented Tim Thompson vividly captures the sheer inequality of the challenge which faced America that day. Not only was she attempting to win a prestigious race in unknown foreign waters, but the Squadron fielded no less that fifteen hostile contestants to prevent her from doing so. It is unclear from the official records whether America was, in fact, jockeyed out of position by her opponents and forced to begin the race astern of all of them. Whether fact or fiction however, Thompson succeeds brilliantly in portraying her as the classic underdog which nevertheless triumphs despite initial adversity.