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Friday, October 6, 2017

Stephen J. Card

Queen Mary 2 Gliding Beneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Stephen J. Card. We crossed both over and under the bridge on the same day.
Having returned about two weeks ago from a round-trip voyage to England aboard the Queen Mary 2, one of the things which impressed me most about the iconic Cunard flagship was the outstanding maritime paintings gracing her faux wood-paneled walls. Virtually every public area on board was bedecked with framed oil paintings or large-scale graphics detailing the long, rich history of the Cunard Line. Everywhere we were reminded that that the QM-2 was not your ordinary cruise ship but a venerable ocean liner, the last of its kind making regular transatlantic crossings (not cruises) in the grand style of decades past. Having spent one night aboard the original Queen Mary (now a hotel) permanently moored in Long Beach, California (just south of L.A.), our two weeks aboard her namesake brought us in a full circle dating back to the Queen Mary's launch as a premier ocean liner back in 1934.
Stephen Card is but one of several outstanding maritime artists, but Cunard and Holland American Lines seem to think he's the best. Most of his work has been commissioned by these two lines.
I first encountered the work of Stephen Card as I inspected a somewhat unusual image (above) apparently painted from the bridge deck of the Queen Mary as she passed the Queen Elizabeth in the mid-Atlantic sometime in the year 1955. Later I found numerous other paintings by Card of Cunard ships from long ago. Born in Bermuda in 1952, Card has been associated with ships and maritime professions since he was a teenager. As a former navigator, sea captain and harbormaster, Card is well qualified to capture on canvas the images of great ships. His understanding of the sea and how ships operate has helped him to depict them accurately. His technical proficiency, combined with his artistic prowess have made him one of the most highly regarded marine artist in the world.
The beginning of a new maritime career in art.
Having been a navigator, then a ship's captain, Card came ashore to be a harbormaster in Bermuda in 1982. He claims that the idea of a career in art had never crossed his mind, though he'd always done a lot of sketching. Then, one day in 1984, he got a call from Nico van de Vorm. He was then the chairman of Holland America Line. He'd seen a painting by Card of a ship, and asked if he would like to do portraits of the then-new Noordam III and Nieuw Amsterdam III (above). With such a client, Card soon became a full time artist."

Queen Elizabeth 2,  launched in 1969,
painted by Card in the late 1980s.
Even though Card began his new art career with Holland America, their chief competitor, Cunard Line soon latched onto him as one of their favorites whose works were to become a part of the Queen Elizabeth 2 collection (above) and later that of the Queen Mary 2 (top). Later Card was commissioned by Cunard to paint some of the company's most legendary ships, such as the line's first ocean steamer, the Britannia, their first cruise ship, the Caronia, and the White Star Line's tragic Titanic (White Star and Cunard merged in 1934).

Samuel Cunard, founder
of the Cunard Line.

More than just legends of the sea, but outstanding maritime art.
Quite apart from his corporate commissions Stephen Card has painted any number of other legendary ships, including the ill-fated SS Andrea Doria which collided in a heavy fog with the Swedish liner, Stockholm near the mouth of New York Harbor on the night of July 25, 1956. The ship sank, taking forty people down with it. The Stockholm limped into port with severe bow damage. The book Collision Course by writer, Alvin Moscow retold the accident. I recall reading it as a teenager. On a Personal note, despite the tragic nature of the account, I've been fascinated by ships and cruising ever since.

The SS Andrea Doria, Stephen J. Card
Stephen Card has also painted two versions of another famous ship dear to my heart, the SS Norway, formerly the SS France, launched first in 1962, then refitted, renamed, and re-launched by Norwegian Cruise Line in 1985. My wife, son, and I sailed on her over New Year's in 1995-96. While in her home port on May 25, 2003, the Norway suffered a boiler explosion in which eight crewmen were killed. Though the ship was largely undamaged, the forty-year-old vessel never saw service again. She was scrapped in 2006.

A proud ship with a humiliating demise.
The fate of the Norway underscores the fact that despite their cost, sentimental memories, and opulent appointments, all passenger liners have a limited lifespan. By 2003, the Norway was, in fact, well past hers. Another liner of similar size and importance, the SS United States, sits today in Philadelphia, rusting away, too costly to refurbish and too uneconomical to return to service. Stephen Card has captured The United States (below) at the height of her glory when she was the fastest and largest ocean liner afloat.

The SS United States, 1952-1969, Stephen J. Card

Although this meeting of the two Queen
Marys in Long Beach did, in fact, take
place, on February 3, 2006, the painting
is not by Stephen Card and is imaginary
in the placement of the two vessels.


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