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Charles S. Raleigh   Click Images to Enlarge

Oscar Adler

(American, 1830-1925)

It is generally assumed that Charles Sidney Raleigh was born in Gloucester, England in 1830 and at the age of 10 he went to sea, spending the next 30 years of his career as a merchant seaman. An article by A.J. Peluso, casts some doubt as to whether Charles Sidney Raleigh was actually born in England and with that name… “Raleigh jokingly claimed that he was descended from Sir Walter Raleigh. Furthermore, a tattoo, “SP,” which he purposely hid with a long-sleeved shirt throughout his life, encouraged suspicions.” According to an article by David Kent, published by the National Centre for History Education in Australia in 1831, of the British convicts sent to Australia with tattoos, 45% had their initials which were acquired while in jail or during voyage.

Much is known about Raleigh’s time in America. Taken ill on a return voyage from Rio de Janiero, he convalesced in Sandwich, Massachusetts at the home of his friend, Isaac Stevens. During that time, Raleigh fell in love with his caregiver, Steven’s daughter, Amelia. They were married and had three sons (one Named Walter) and three daughters.

In the mid 1870s Raleigh worked for William H. Caswell, an all-purpose painting contractor with a shop located in New Bedford. Part of Caswell’s service was painting whale ship’s hulls. In 1877 Raleigh opened his own first studio, embarking on what was to be a successful career, patronized by master mariners and ship-owners. He was soon commissioned to paint a series of 22 oil on canvas panels titled, Panorama of a Whaling Voyage of the Ship “Niger.” The series took two years to complete, with each panel measuring 75 x 139 inches. They are part of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s permanent collection. Please see Philip F. Purrington’s book 4 Years A-whaling: Charles S. Raleigh, Illustrator.

Entirely self-taught, he continued to paint ships built at Fairhaven, Kennebunk, New Bedford, and those that visited from Hamburg or Liverpool. Over the next 30 years it is estimated he painted about 1000 ship portraits, of which 600 were of whaling ships. His whaling scenes of men actively pursuing or hunting are rare. Ironically, Raleigh, who became a recognized expert on whaling, never sailed on a whaler, but learned his subject from the tales of whaling masters.

“Raleigh was among those most gifted, unschooled, but innately talented, ship portrait painters. His paintings are unfailingly and especially refined. They compare with the best from any continent. In addition to being a keen observer and recorder of vessel detail, men, their clothes and attitudes, and the work they performed at sea, he must be considered a fine genre painter, as well. He was fastidious enough to make his own brushes with his own hair, some with only a single hair.”

Raleigh painted portraits of President Grover Cleveland and Admiral George Dewey and fished with them as well. Hid did drawings for the engravings in the 1887 government publication The Fisheries and Fishing Industries of the United States of the whaling schooner Amelia and the bark Alice Knowles. Raleigh stopped painting in 1908, as he was troubled with an eye disease and he died at the age of 95 in Bourne, Massachusetts.

Raleigh’s work is in the Kendall Whaling Museum; New Bedford Whaling Museum; Mariner’s Museum; Mystic Seaport Museum; Peabody-Essex Museum; Old Dartmouth Historical Society; Bourne Town Hall, Bourne, MA; Kendrick House, Wareham, MA; Shelburne Museum, VT; Metropolitan Museum of Art.


References: Who was Who in American Art 1564-1975, Sound View Press, Peter Falk. Charles Sidney Raleigh: His Second Life, Maine Antiques Digest, 2008, A.J. Peluso.