John O’Brien, the son of a Halifax barber, is regarded as Canada’s most significant ship portrait artist of the 19th century. This 1857 painting of the brig Florence shows O’Brien near the height of his powers. Florence was built in Shelburne in 1853 for Thomas Clifford Kinnear, one of the founders of the Royal Bank. The raked masts and clipper bows you see were typical of the fast brigs employed in the West Indies trades. The translucency of the waves, so beautifully rendered, was a skill that O’Brien had just mastered. Sadly, Florence was lost in a storm in the West Indies a few months after this painting was finished. And by 1860, John O’Brien, still in his twenties, was forced by failing eyesight to stop painting for 20 years.
Donors: Paul and Thomas Kinnear