Viewed by many as America’s finest painter of the sailing vessel, Buttersworth is particularly noted for his yacht racing scenes. His ability to render maritime action in exacting detail led to frequent commissions from yacht owners who sought to immortalize their sporting triumphs on canvas. Scholar Richard Grassby writes:
"His yachts have a fragile power and grace of movement at high speed. Buttersworth captured the breathtaking performance of these small craft, the skill and aggressiveness of their hands, the excitement and drama of the race, and the dreams and disappointments of the winners and losers."
Yacht racing was approaching its zenith in the middle of the nineteenth century. Curtailed during the Civil War, the popular sport began to thrive again soon after the conflict ended. It attracted a socially and financially prominent group of participants, and even though it was beyond the financial wherewithal of most of its audience, it became a closely followed spectator sport and received substantial press coverage. In 1866 the New York Yacht Club sponsored the first transatlantic race. This event, along with Britain’s challenge to the America’s Cup in 1870, catapulted sailing’s popularity to unprecedented heights. It remained a spectator favorite until it was supplanted by the rise of baseball and other sports in the late nineteenth century.
The son of a noted marine painter, English-born Buttersworth settled in West Hoboken, New Jersey during the 1850s, a location that offered him unrestricted access to the varied maritime activity in New York harbor. Soon after emigrating, Currier & Ives arranged to publish several of his ship pictures, and before long he had established his reputation in this country. During the 60 years he painted, Buttersworth witnessed perhaps the most significant developments in nautical history and remained a careful student of vessels, weather, and seamanship over the course of his career. Not only did he pay meticulous attention to details of the rigging, sails, and hulls of the watercraft he painted, but he also fully understood the subtleties of how they performed under various sea and weather conditions, lending his works a distinct sense of authority and authenticity.
Buttersworth’s works are found in prestigious private collections and institutions including: The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; Peabody Museum, Salem, MA; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX; Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, CT; Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA; Bath Marine Museum, Bath, ME; The New York Yacht Club, New York, NY; and the New York State Historical Association, New York, NY.