Painting, Clipper Ship Mandarin

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This formal ship portrait by an unknown Chinese artist depicts the clipper ship Mandarin sailing into Hong Kong harbor around the middle of the 19th century. All sails are set except for one on the mizzenmast, and the crew on the ship's bow are preparing to drop anchor in the harbor. One of the earliest extreme clipper ships built specifically for the California Gold Rush, Mandarin was launched at the New York shipyard of Smith & Dimon in June 1850.
The ship was built on the packet ship model—relatively flat-floored and vertical-sided—which added cargo capacity. Measuring 151.5 ft in length by 33.5 ft in breadth and 776 tons, Mandarin was not particularly large, nevertheless, the smallish clipper ship was very swift, particularly during its later voyages. Mandarin was owned by Goodhue & Co. for the 12 years, then sold to former Goodhue partners Weston & Gray.
Throughout the ship's 14-year life of ten round trips, the clipper had only two captains. Three of its voyages were to California; most of the others were to China. This painting would have been painted during one of these trips, but which one is not known. On one trip from New York to Melbourne, Australia in 1855/56, Mandarin set a 69-day 14-hour record that was never bested by a commercial sailing ship. Mandarin continued to trade into the Civil War, despite the massive rise in insurance rates connected with the conflict. On its 11th voyage, the ship cleared New York in December 1862 for Shanghai, and traded on the China coast until the summer of 1864. On 9 August 1864, en route back to the United States, Mandarin struck an uncharted rock 12 feet deep in the China Sea. All the passengers and crew were saved along with some of the cargo, but the ship was a total loss.
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1850-1860
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
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Work and Industry: Maritime
Cigna Maritime Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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