An Interesting Pair of c.1904 Cunard White Star Line Watercolours Depicting RMS Carpathia

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Origin: American
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1904
Height: 6.5 inches
Width: 8.5 inches (all at maximum)


Painted in watercolours on oak cigar box lids depicting the Carpathia, both inscribed New York and with postally used stamps with postmark to one inscribed Liverpool and dated 1904. There are further markings ‘Smoke Room’, ‘Mr J Sands’ and motifs of the propellers and a torpedo with the United States flag to one and the flag of The Cunard White Star Line to the other.

The condition of the pictures and the lids themselves are good with only some loss to the edges of each, whilst the postmark and stamps are fully in tact and there is only a small amount of dirt commensurate with age to the actual paint. They do have some rippling, as they were obviously stuck to these lids on creation. In a naïve style the painting is still sensitively fashioned in a limited and unobtrusive colour palette one on a sepia ground, the other paler and more neutral. One picture has an inset border. There are old pin holes to each where the lids would have been attached to the boxes.

Verso we can see the old advertising paper remnants of the ‘de tabacos de Filipinas Manila’ to one lid and to the other an ink stamp bearing similar text. The company’s address of ‘Lit Hermenegildo Miralles, Calle, Bailen No. 59, Barcelona’ can also be read. With regard to the flags, the American one is self-explanatory though the other of the rampant golden lion, is of the Cunard White Star Company. After Cunard and White Star Line merged for many years the ships of the amalgamation flew the House Flags of both the Cunard and the White Star. The Cunard flag has a red field charged with a golden lion rampant guardant which we can see depicted here.

One of the most famous Cunarders, RMS Carpathia was a transatlantic passenger steamship built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson. Carpathia made her maiden voyage in 1903, just a year before these pictures were painted, and became famous for rescuing the survivors of RMS Titanic after the latter ship hit an iceberg and sank on 15 April 1912. In a cruel twist of fate, Carpathia herself was sunk in the Atlantic on 17 July 1918 during the First World War after being torpedoed by an Imperial German Navy U-boat.

An exert in a 1903 article reads “The real features of the ship are the four, three, and two berth cabins for third class passengers, their large dining and smoking rooms, their covered promenade, and their ladies’ room. These, which are plainly and sensibly fitted in polished wood, are on a scale of comfort to which third class passengers are strangers”.

We can deduce that these pictures were painted in one of Carpathias large smoke rooms, by Mr Sands, perhaps in between writing letters or indeed smoking the cigars that were housed within these cigar boxes. Eight years later these smoke rooms would become emergency dormitories for Titanic’s survivors and six years after that they would be sitting at the bottom of the sea.

These decorative pictures, almost akin to the flotsam that floated around the wreck of the Titanic, represent a superb survival and are intriguing and undeniably charming. They represent the best of both folk and maritime art, depicting a ship whose incredible destiny was yet to be fully realised when they were painted in 1904.

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