Lady Montague is one of the artist’s few fictional ships; that is to say, one will find no actual historical record of such a ship. James named her after the wife of the first Earl of Sandwich, Edward Montagu (an older spelling of the name) (1625 – 1673), a man he came to greatly admire through the writings of Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703). James, after coming across a picture of Montegue’s wife, Jemima and finding her beautiful, decided that an equally beautiful ship must be her namesake, and thus Lady Montegue came into existence.
Clipper ships dominated sea trade throughout most of the nineteenth century. Even with the emergence of a newer technology producing the faster and more powerful steam ships, sailing vessels were more economical and continued their popularity well into the twentieth century. So popular were these ships in the bloom of global trade that their classic silhouette has become an international trademark for sea faring transport.
Lady Montegue represents the last of these elegant sailing vessels. Her long lines and massive square rigging illustrate the perfect marriage of ship and sea. Merchants and pirates, sailors and immigrants, all sailed on these ships, more than enough material for those wonderful and sometimes lurid tales of romance and adventure at port and sea, tales brought to mind at once by the image of a clipper ship.
In this painting, Lady Montegue is depicted departing the English Channel in the early 1900’s. In the background to the left steams the German ocean liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, while a classic schooner, Pamela, glides into the channel from the right forefront. Pamela has been out to sea for many months. Clinging to the ratlines, her captain shouts through his speaking trumpet, hoping to hear some news from the departing clipper ship.