Painting, The Bon Homme Richard and HMS Seapis

USS Bonhomme Richard was originally named the Duc de Duras, renamed after the ship was granted to John Paul Jones by the French during the American Revolution. The Duc de Duras was built around 1761 and measured 998 tons; it was bought by the French in 1769 and used primarily as an armed transport ship until given to John Paul Jones in 1779. Jones renamed the ship Bonhomme Richard (Poor Richard) to honor Benjamin Franklin, as that was his French nickname. Duc de Duras was not in prime condition and Jones cut twelve ports on the gun-deck where he mounted six 18-pound guns. Bonhomme Richard carried a total of 42 guns. Bonhomme Richard is best known for its battle with HMS Serapis. Serapis was a British naval ship with 44 guns built in 1779 and commanded by Richard Pearson. Serapis was sent to protect merchant ships against piracy and on its first voyage was confronted by Bonhomme Richard. The battle took place on September 23, 1779 in the North Sea off Flamborough Head, England, and lasted over 3 hours. Though Serapis was better equipped, faster and more maneuverable, Richard Pearson surrendered Serapis to John Paul Jones. While Jones was able to win the battle, the Bonhomme Richard sank two days later, having sustained heavy damage during the battle. The painting shows three ships locked in combat, and it is possible that this painting is a time lapse scene of the battle. Men are visibly engaged in battle aboard the ships, and some crew members are hanging onto wreckage in the water. The Serapis's name is visible at the stern. Artist Thomas Buttersworth was born in 1768, on the Isle of Wight. He was a British painter who had spent time as a seaman. After his return to London in 1800, he was appointed Marine Painter of the East India Company. Buttersworth died in 1842.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, oil
date made
ca 1830
Buttersworth, Thomas
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
without frame: 17 1/2 in x 23 1/2 in; 44.45 cm x 59.69 cm
overall: 25 in x 31 1/2 in; 63.5 cm x 80.01 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cigna Maritime Collection
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cigna Maritime Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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