This fine work by the contemporary artist Richard Firth portrays the legendary Britannia neck-and-neck with her celebrated American cousin Vigilant as the two giants battled it out at Cowes in the golden summer of 1894.
Britannia, built for King Edward VII when Prince of Wales in 1893, was undoubtedly the most famous racing cutter of them all. Hugely successful during her long life, she won 33 firsts out of 39 starts in her maiden season and competed against all the fastest yachts of the day. Sold in 1897 - although bought back for cruising in 1901 by which time the Prince of Wales had succeeded to the throne - her second racing career really came into its own when King George V had her refitted for big class competitions in 1921. Under the King's enthusiastic ownership, Britannia went from success to success. Despite being re-rigged seven times in all, her hull shape was so efficient that she remained competitive almost to the end and was only finally outclassed by the big J-class boats introduced in the mid-1930's. King George V died in 1936 and under the terms of his will, Britannia was stripped of her salvageable gear and scuttled off the southern tip of the Isle of Wight.
Vigilant, 96 tons, was designed and built by the great Nat Herreshoff for a wealthy American syndicate headed by C. Oliver Iselin. Ordered in response to Lord Dunraven's 1892 challenge for the America's Cup, Vigilant won all three of the races in October 1893 to retain the trophy in one of the closest finishes in the race's history (see lot 80 for further details). After this triumph, she crossed the Atlantic for the 1894 Season at Cowes and there encountered Britannia against which she would sail so often in the coming years. Many yachtsmen of the day considered her to be Britannia's most worthy adversary and their duels were still being talked of long after the Prince of Wales had sold his yacht in response to the Kaiser's obsessive jealousy.