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The painting (above) as it was last touched by John, now on my easel here in Mystic.

Finishing a John Stobart Painting

I am deeply honored to have been asked by John Stobart’s widow (and head of the Stobart Foundation) to finish a painting of South Street (at his request) he was unable to complete before his passing early this year.  I will be regularly chronicling my progress finishing the piece using John’s notes, research, methods and materials in a series of blog posts, below:

Chapter 1: An Introduction (previous post)

Chapter 2: John’s Methods & Materials (previous post)

Chapter 3: The Subject Matter Depicted (previous post)

Chapter 4: What Needs to Be Done (previous post)

Chapter 5: Starting the Painting Process (previous post):

Chapter 6: Finishing the Downeaster (Below):

Chapter 7: Refining the black-hulled schooner (next post)

Chapter 8: My Other All Time Hero (link here)

Chapter 9: From Blob to Barge (link here):

Chapter 10: Nearly Finished, And Discovering An Earlier Version Of The Painting (link here)

Chapter 11: Finally Finished (link here)

As discussed in previous chapters, John’s vision for this painting is a scene from 1884 on South Street in New York, along the piers immediately south of the newly-opened Brooklyn Bridge. Looking at the painting as he left it (above) you can see, from left to right, the paddle steamer SAPPHO, a three-masted downeaster, a two-masted, black-hulled schooner, a three-masted coastal schooner with another just behind it, and what looks like a barge, though that is just roughly smudged in.

Like any painting with so much overlapping detail, I think its easiest to work from background to foreground, which is why I first started adding detail to the Brooklyn waterfront, then finished the bridge and all its supporting cables. Next, it made sense to tackle the downeaster, which will also eventually have rigging from a foreground boat in front of it. Downeasters were typical and ubiquitous 19th-century Maine-built three-masters, which combined the speed of clipper ships with more cargo handling, and were used largely in the grain trade. John left this vessel in a sort of a ‘middle painting’ stage, with the basic shapes of hull, masts, spars, furled sails and even some rigging indicated. However, it is clear he was far from finished with it. One of the items that needed to be addressed, as I outlined in Chapter 4, was the downeaster’s waterline (where the topsides meet the bottom plating) which appeared too low, giving her too much freeboard. As you can see from these before and after shots of the painting (below) I addressed this and added much more finish, as follows:

The top image shows the ship as John left it, and the image below is my notion of what he probably would have done with her. It also appeared to me that the surface of the water between the piers, in front of the ship, was much too still and mirror-like reflective. I assume he left it that way as a guide to add wavelets and disruptive shapes on top, as I have done. Surely the always-bustling East River traffic would cause the waters here to stir constantly.

Above is a before-and-after look at some of the detail I’ve added, including doused foresails, copper hull plating, rigging, anchor chain and figures on the dock. John loved to weave the names of his friends into advertising banners, storefront signs and other areas in his paintings where lettering appears. Here, I’ve chosen to name the ship DARBY, John’s birthplace.

Here’s a couple of more shots of detail added to the hull, stern, deckhouses and rigging.

I’ve been working on this between other projects, and will come back to it again in a couple of weeks to tackle the black-hulled schooner. If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know by dropping me an e-mail at and thanks for your interest!

Next Chapter 7: Refining the black-hulled schooner

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