Antonio Jacobsen marine paintings

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The S.S. City of Paris by Antonio Jacobsen, 1889
St Louis and New York by Jacobsen
Steamsail Ship
Ada Bailey by Antonio Jacobsen
U.S. Frigate


Known as the "Audubon of Steam Vessels," Antonio Jacobsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and received his art training there at the Royal Academy. Jacobsen immigrated to American in 1871 and took a job painting decorations on commercial safes for the Marvin Safe Company in New York City. With the encouragement of a steamship company, Jacobsen turned his attention toward portraits of ships and marine images. In 1880 he relocated his studio and residence permanently to West Hoboken, New Jersey.

Even if Antonio Jacobsen had left us but a few ship portraits from the late 1870’s he would have earned lasting recognition as a talented marine artist.  We could count on depictions of live ships on live seas – seas which his early enthusiasm could not keep under control. 

Ironically, had Jacobsen produced fewer paintings, regardless of period, he might be more noted as a marine artist today.  With incredible energy he created at least 2400 known works (and possibly as many as 6000), more than enough to surfeit those trying to judge his artistry. 

But Jacobsen’s paintings deserve better than to be placed end-on-end in monotonous assembly-line fashion. 

Antonio Jacobsen arrived in New York in 1873, more a musician by profession than an artist.  By 1876 he was listed in the New York City Directory as an artist, indicating a quick resolve to pursue this new vocation.  New and untried as it apparently was to him, he plunged into it, mastered it, and carried it on with a consuming energy.  During all but his last few years Jacobsen enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, which reflected the financial success of his life’s work.  As to his artistry, viewers of this exhibition can hardly fail but be impressed. 

Jacobsen deserves to be remembered for what he painted as much as for how he painted.  We need to stress the wide range of vessel types and sizes which, drawn by the commercial magnetism of the port of New York, paraded together before Jacobsen’s eyes, to be ultimately captured on his canvases.  Sail and steam, commercial and naval, large and small, all manner of craft found representation in his work. 

His clients – mostly ships’ officers, crewmen and owners – demanded accuracy.  And accuracy was what they received.  So well, in fact, did he document this parade of ships – and New York’s importance as a port – that he deserves the dual titles of marine historian and marine artist.

As a method of an advertisement, Jacobsen would frequently add his address, 705 Palisade Av., West Hoboken, N.J. below his signature. At times, he employed his two sons, Carl and Alphonse, to paint the water and sky, leaving Jacobsen the task of delineating the ship itself. His images of the ships were often based on the plans and blueprints supplied by the companies.

This essay, about Antonio Jacobsen, has been adapted from an esssay written by the late Harold Sniffen, Curator Emeritus of The Mariners’ Museum.