Jacobsen, Antonio Nicolo Gaspara – American Nautical Artist

Antonio Jacobsen

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1850, Antonio Nicolo Gaspara Jacobsen studied art at the Royal Academy of Design in Copenhagen and came to New York City in 1871 to avoid being drafted into the Franco-Prussian War.

To earn money, Jacobsen decorated safe doors for the Marvin Safe Company and began painting ship portraits for the Old Dominion Steamship Line. His reputation grew to the point that he was widely regarded as one of America’s finest marine artists, painting around 4,000 portraits of the steamships that came to dock at the New York City Harbor between 1876 and 1919. Jacobsen’s paintings of these ships were often based on plans and blueprints supplied by their owners. Three New Orleans based steamer lines, the Morgan Line, the New Orleans Belize Royal Mail, and the Central American Steamship Company gave him some of his most extensive commissions.

In his later years, Jacobsen’s daughter Helen helped paint the sky and water of his pictures and his son, Carl, painted some of his own ship portraits. Jacobsen died in 1921 in West Hoboken, New Jersey, fondly known as the “Audubon of Steam Vessels.”

Jacobean’s artistic output can be difficult to believe but two books have been published listing about 3,500 specific paintings: Antonio Jacobsen – The Checklist, published in 1984, identifies approximately 2,500 specific Jacobsen paintings. Another 1,000 are listed in Antonio Jacobsen – The Checklist: Addenda List Number 2 published in 1994.

The work ethic that produced such a large quantity of well regarded paintings was described in the April 2, 1887 edition of the Maine Journal as follows: “We recently dropped in on marine artist Jacobsen at his studio on Palisades over-looking the Hudson, and found this gentleman improving the day, which was a pleasant one, by painting marine pictures at the rate of one every two hours, in the endeavor to catch up with the many orders he had on hand. It is a question if there is another marine artist in the United States or the world that can do as satisfactory work in his line as Jacobsen. He has made himself so valuable as a producer of perfect pictures of steam and sail vessels that those who have been accustomed to patronize him would be ‘at sea,’ as it were, should his hand cease to wield the brush. May he be spared to paint the entire new naval fleet, now an established fact, and the new merchant marine fleet in prospective.”

Reference note by p4A editors. Updated April 2011.

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