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The Winter Art Show

June 2024
1min read

In this spirited China-trade painting from the early nineteenth Century, a frigate displays the flags of all nations. Although each flag bears a number and is identified in the painted border, the American colors are bewildering: at no time in our history has the flag been composed of nineteen stripes and thirty-odd stars. The ship’s stern and the frame’s central cartouche are left blank, but the figurehead. The Goddess of Liberty by the sculptor William Rush, helps identify this as the United States , launched in 1797. The practice of hoisting flags to celebrate special occasions dates back to at least the sixteenth century, but the use of national flags led to squabbling over perceived slights: by the end of the nineteenth century, signal flags were substituted. Several versions of this painting exist, and the artist who painted this one may have left the title blank to increase his chances of attracting buyers enamored of other vessels.

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