As Schaefer writes in his commentary on Buttersworth's very similar work of Columbia and Dauntless rounding the Sandy Hook lightship (no. 160), where the main subject is once again the Columbia:
'A fine ship's portrait combined with a dramatic moment. It's so much more than just a picture of a boat.'
The 1870s was a golden decade for American yachting and, in this wonderfully dramatic work, Buttersworth has captured two of that era's most celebrated thoroughbreds. Both yachts enjoyed hugely successful careers but it was the added excitement of their participation in the earliest defences of the fabled America's Cup which gave each of them their own measure of immortality. Following America's legendary win at Cowes in 1851, the U.S. schooner Sappho went to Cowes in 1868 to try and repeat that earlier triumph only to be soundly beaten by Mr. James Ashbury's Cambria. This unexpected success so fired Mr. Ashbury's enthusiasm for the sport that he decided to mount the first official challenge for the America's Cup in 1870 using his well-tried Cambria. Undeterred by his subsequent defeat, he then mounted a second challenge the following year when the New York Yacht Club fielded the brand-new Columbia as their defender.
Designed and built for Franklin Osgood by J.B. van Deusen, Columbia displaced 220 tons and measured 108 feet in length with a 26 foot beam. James Ashbury had also invested in a new boat, the Livonia, which was significantly larger in every respect, and yet, when the two yachts met in the first race on 16th October , Columbia romped home fully 27 minutes ahead of her English challenger. Two days later she won the second race by almost 11 minutes and, even though Livonia won the third and last race on the 19th, Columbia was duly declared the winner of the series and the coveted trophy returned to the New York Yacht Club to await future challenges.
Although Dauntless was never actually selected to defend the Cup, she nevertheless played a leading role in both the 1870 and 1871 British challenges. During both series she took part in a number of races and, more significantly, had also participated in the famous transatlantic race from Daunt's Rock, Cork Harbor (Ireland) to Sandy Hook which preceded the 1870 Cup match. James Ashbury won that transatlantic dash in Cambria but Dauntless owned by the colorful New Yorker James Gordon Bennett, was less than two hours behind him in the race that lasted twenty-three days. Straight after his failure to recover the Cup in 1871, Ashbury then pitted his new Livonia against Dauntless in a private race which Livonia won so convincingly that it merely made Ashbury feel even more aggrieved that he had been so decisively beaten by Columbia.
Thus, the combined achievements of these two notable yachts can hardly be overstated and this classic depiction of them competing against each other under the auspices of a New York Yacht Club match makes this painting a work of real historic significance within the wider story of American yachting.