Painting of the Merchant Ship Stephen Girard

The sailing ship Stephen Girard was part of the trade from Philadelphia to Canton in 1833. Though named after the wealthy merchant and ship owner Stephen Girard (1750-1831), the ship was never owned by him. Girard was a French-born sailor and shipping merchant who settled in Philadelphia almost by accident when the British blockade of the port of New York during the Revolutionary War forced him to sail down the Delaware River instead of into New York harbor as originally planned. He became one of the city's most prominent citizens. As an extremely successful merchant and business person, he amassed the largest fortune of anyone in America up to that time. Girard made several important loans to the federal government to keep the fledgling nation from financial ruin. Most of the ships Girard owned were named after his favorite French authors, like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu.
The painting by Sunqua shows a portside view of the ship with a black hull. Mountains can be seen in the background. The water is greenish-blue. The crenellations of a fortress wall can be seen to the right. The Stephen Girard was insured by the Insurance Company of North America (INA), the predescessor of CIGNA, which donated the painting to the Smithsonian.
Sunqua was a 19th century Chinese painter. He was one of the better-known Chinese artisans, although paintings by him are rare. He is known for painting Western ships in Chinese ports.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, oil
date made
ca 1860
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
without frame: 16 1/2 in x 23 in; 41.91 cm x 58.42 cm
with frame: 20 1/4 in x 26 1/4 in; 51.435 cm x 66.675 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
"Stepehn Girard"
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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