01 Marine Art, Thomas Birch’s BRITANNIA to the Rescue. With Footnotes, #312

Thomas Birch, American, 1779-1851
BRITANNIA to the Rescue, c. 1843

Oil on canvas
9 1/8 x 14 inches
Private collection

The wreck off Sable Island. The first side wheel steamship Britannia of the Cunard Line to the rescue

Thomas Birch (1779 – January 3, 1851), was an English-born American portrait and marine painter. He was born in London, England. He came to the U. S. in 1794, and assisted his artist father, William Birch, in preparing a 29-plate collection of engravings: Birch’s Views of Philadelphia (1800). Subscribers to the series included President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson. This sold well and went into multiple editions, inspiring similar collected views of New York City, and of suburban estates surrounding Philadelphia and Baltimore. Thomas’ first major painting appears to have been a view of Philadelphia from the Treaty Elm in Kensington, which was also engraved and published in 1804. He painted portraits until about 1807, when he took up marine-painting. Some of his most famous works depict naval battles of the War of 1812.

Historically, the Birches’ most important work may be a circa-1801 engraving documenting the unfinished U.S. Capitol. Another, may be the painting depicting an 1812 naval battle between USS United States and HMS Macedonian, that hung in the Oval Office of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. More on Thomas Birch

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