The legendary Clipper Ariel running free in the moonlight signed oil on canvas 61 x 91.4cm (24 x 36in).
Once called "the fastest thing the wind ever drove through the water", the clipper Ariel was designed and built by Robert Steele, one of the Clyde's most talented shipbuilders, in 1865. Registered at 852 tons net and measuring 198 feet in length with a 34 foot beam, her composite construction [of wooden planks laid upon iron frames] gave her great longitudinal strength and she carried the usual lavish sail-plan associated with her breed. Launched from Steele's Greenock yard on 29th June 1865, she fulfilled all her owners' expectations from the start to the extent that in 1866, she shared the honours [with Taeping] of being first home with the new season's tea in what was heralded as the most spectacular 'tea race' of them all. Sailing from Foochow, these two celebrated ships raced virtually neck-and-neck across the world and docked together in London after a 99-day dash with less than half-an-hour between them. It was a breathtaking start to Ariel's career and her next passage out, from Gravesend to Hong Kong (79 days, pilot to pilot), set a record which was never surpassed. Other excellent homeward runs followed and in 1867 and again in 1868, she sped home both years in 103 days, an astonishing achievement. In 1870, by which time the London tea trade was becoming increasingly seduced by steamships, Ariel took her annual cargo to New York but was back in London with the 1871 season's crop just before Christmas. On 31st January 1872 Ariel cleared London docks bound for Sydney but disappeared at sea and was never heard from again, a tragic end for such a thoroughbred as she.
For another painting of Ariel, shown with Taeping running home during the great 'tea race' of 1866, see Louise A. Felstead A Cloud of Sail, Maritime Paintings by J. Steven Dews, 2001, pp. 108-9.