Note: This is part one of a four-part series on area residents who moved onto big things.
Union City has always celebrated influential people from history, naming schools, parks and streets after activists like Cuban’s Jose Marti or musicians like late Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz.
But what about successful people who actually grew up in the area?
Their legacies are not always common knowledge among the citizens, but many important paths were blazed from northern Hudson County.
On a soon-to-be aired PBS-TV broadcast of “Antiques Roadshow” on Jan. 9, residents can relish the magnificent find of two paintings by a leading marine painter of the 19th century, James E. Buttersworth, a one time resident of West Hoboken, which is now known as Union City.
Buttersworth in Tampa
During the Florida filming of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow in Tampa, Patsy Anderson of Bokeelia, Fla., drove three hours from her home to bring in a large painting that had been in her family for years, for appraisal.
“The painting be longed to my husband’s grandfather,” Anderson told the show.
In an unexpected and fortunate turn, she discovered it was a Buttersworth original circa 1880s, and it fetched the second highest appraisal price in Antique Roadshow history.
“It was not signed, but I am familiar with Buttersworth’s work and I have sold pieces and it seemed consist with his paintings style and subject matter,” said Debra Force, appraiser.
Since the painting was slightly damaged, Force, who runs Debra Force Fine Arts, Inc. in New York City, valued it between $250,000 and $500,000, but if repaired, it will probably fetch a much higher price.
“At first blush, we thought perhaps this was the largest valued piece [on Antiques Roadshow], which Debra Force appraised at an upward of $550,000 upon restoration,” said Judy Matthews, press relations for Roadshow. “Upon reflection, and following our usual protocol, we [identified] the piece for its current value, without the restoration, which is out of our control, and puts it at number two on Antiques Roadshow.”
However, that was not the only Buttersworth painting to turn up at the Tampa event.
A second smaller painting was brought in by Nan Chisholm, which was the first one on the appraising table, bore Buttersworth’s signature, and depicted two yachts apparently in a race. It was valued between $80,000 and $120,000.
“It was an amazing find and to have two of them turn up at the same event; it was mind-blowing,” said Matthews.
“They were both exciting finds,” said Force. “He really probably is the premier marine painter of the 19th century, with most of his work done in the U.S. I find his work particularly dramatic the racing subjects are exciting.”
James E. Buttersworth was born in Middlesex County, England in 1817, and is believed to be the son of Thomas Buttersworth, Jr., another celebrated English marine painter from 1797 to 1842.
James Buttersworth was well trained in the tradition of English marine painting, which was well established in the 18th century. He added his own signature style of meticulous detail, grace in movement, and dramatic settings, which drew his audience into the portraits.
It was said that one of Buttersworth’s sons also became a painter as well.
After immigrating to the United States between 1845 and 1847, Butterworth and his family settled into West Hoboken, which has commonly been misconstrued as present day Hoboken. West Hoboken is actually part of what is now Union City, after the town merged with its neighboring municipality of Union Hill.
“The marine painter James Buttersworth lived on Palisade Avenue, where Washington Park is today, which was an artist’s community of sorts with other artists residing in that area such as Antonio Jacobson,” said Kathy Pontus, a Union City resident and private historian.
Buttersworth had brought some of his work, including paintings of British sailing ships, from England to sell, but it was his portrayals of ships and races off the New York City harbor that began his famed acclaim.
By the 1850s, Buttersworth had become best known for his renderings of racing clipper ships, steamers and yachts that sailed through the New York Harbor. He also showed a specialization in navy ships, which would sometimes be painted amidst historical battles scenes, and pieces depicting the early steamship era.
According to the website of the Caldwell Gallery in New York, “Buttersworth’s work is noted for its precise detail and romanticized settings with churning sea and rolling storm clouds. He would also accentuate the length of the yacht by painting full sails in a diagonal composition.”
Buttersworth returned to England in 1851 and was commissioned to make a series of drawings for the yacht races that year. He focused on the events at Cowes, Isle of Wight, which led the Aug. 22 Race for the Hundred Pound Cup, won by America that year.
The now defunct company of Currier and Ives published his ship pictures as popular prints when he first arrived, and from 1850 to 1852 he exhibited and sold paintings through the American Art Union in New York. After a career that spanned 60 years, Buttersworth died in 1894 at the age of about 77.
At the present day, about 600 of Buttersworth’s pieces have been found. His work is now found in private collections and museums all over the United States including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Virginia. Buttersworth’s treasures will be aired this Monday, Jan. 9, on PBS.