In Full Sails
OIL ON CANVAS. ORIGINAL SIZE 70 x 50 in
1. Fantasy ghost ship
Appears in the poem Airship by Mikhail Lermontov describing a fanciful journey and miraculous posthumous apparition of the Emperor Napoleon who died and was buried on the island of St Helena in the Atlantic ocean in 1821. The story mentions a ghost-ship that is speeding to its shores every year on the anniversary of the deposed monarch's death.
2. The Flying Dutchman (De Vliegende Hollander)
A legendary ghost ship that is doomed to sail forever, never making it to the shore. It is usually seen from afar, sometimes in a halo of light. According to the legend, when the Flying Dutchman comes across another vessel, its crew tries to communicate and send messages ashore addressed to the people who have been long gone. Such a meeting was regarded as a bad omen among the seafarers.
3. Cutty Sark
The word 'sark' is Scots for 'short chemise' and cutty suggests that it is far too short. The nickname refers to the famous Scottish witch Nannie Dee whose figure is gracing the bow of the vessel (a half-naked young woman clutching a horse's tail). The owner John Willis decided to use it for a new clipper he ordered after seeing a painting of a flying young witch in a nightie – the heroine of the poem Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns.
The fantasy element in the painting is undeniable: the very ship, its sails and more unexpectedly, its masts, are all formed by the wings and bodies of the giant dragonflies! We see clearly the 'sailors' sliding swiftly up and down as they set the unusual sails at the captain's command. We see those fantastic sails shining with a cold luster and a seasoned navigator at the bow watching closely for any suspicious maneuvers of the other ships out at sea. Strengthening the sense of an intense vigil are the 'oculus' wings on both sides of the rostrum!
To continue the flight of fantasy we could trace an analogy between this undoubtedly aggressive (dragonfly – 'flying dragon') clipper and a pirate ship - note the Jolly Roger among the flying flags. It is certainly very different from the 'peaceful' butterfly ship by the artist (see Departure of the Winged Ship).