Posted By whatsitworth on May 21, 2012
Dear What’s It Worth,
I live in Albany and yesterday we had our 5th annual citywide garage sale. I didn’t get to all 55 sales because early in the morning I found a print and fell in love with it. The picture shows a man and a woman in a rowboat. The man is in rain gear but the woman is not. In the lower right hand cornier a label reads, “ Grace Darling and her father on the way to the wreck of the Forfarshire. Sept. 7th, 1838.
I paid $30 for it and feel the price was fair because I really like it. Any information you can give me would be appreciated.
What a great find! Grace Darling was one of the first media celebrities of the 19th century. She was the daughter of a lighthouse keeper on one of the otherwise unoccupied Farne islands off the coast of Northumbria in Northeastern England. On the morning of September 7, 1838 she looked out a window through a raging storm and saw a shipwreck. The SS Forfarshire, carrying 63 passengers and crew, had split in two: one of the halves immediately sank and the second floundered on rocks, allowing a small group of survivors to cling to life.
The sea was too rough to launch the lifeboat so Grace and her father took a 20-foot flat-bottomed rowboat into the surf. They rowed for over a mile and reached the rocks. Nine shipwreck survivors were saved. In the meantime, the lifeboat was launched and managed to pick up an additional group of survivors stranded in the Forfarshire’s lifeboat. The storm was so brutal that the survivors had to stay on Farne another two days before boats could be dispatched to rescue them.
The 22 year old Grace became an instant folk hero and celebrity. Nine of the survivors presented her with a gold locket holding a lock of hair from each of them. Portraitists clamored to paint her. She was invited to appear in the London and Edinborough theatres. Her sister, Thomasina, once worried that Grace would be bald if she complied with all of the requests for locks of her hair. Queen Victoria herself was the first to pledge to a fund to support Grace for her lifetime. Her biography was published in 1839. Her father, worried for her health, finally put a stop to all of the artist’s requests for sittings.
This being the mid 19th century, however, the ban did not halt her fame. Technology was advanced to a stage that images could be reproduced inexpensively and in huge numbers. Grace’s likeness could be found on soaps, chocolate boxes, postcards, pottery, tapestries, magazine illustrations and Staffordshire figures. A bronze medal was issued with her likeness on the front and the legend, “You are my saving Grace Darling” on the reverse.
Grace’s popularity remained throughout the 19th century, partly because of her death. In 1842, while still a popular figure, she died of tuberculosis in her father’s arm. This early death cemented Grace in time as a dutiful daughter and tragic hero.
Ballads were written about her, her bravery and her purity. William Wordsworth published a poem about her in 1843. In reality, she had one extraordinary event in an otherwise ordinary life: her early death allowed the public and the media to invent all sorts of stories about her and to imbue her with a sort of saintliness.
You have a dramatic 19th century chromolithograph of Grace and her father rowing through a storm to the rescue. I can’t trace the original artist the scene was taken from: hundreds of illustrations appeared in magazines and newspapers, some more dramatic than others. I can say that technology in the mid 19th century would have made this an affordable artwork for a middle-class home.
The nail head frame and oak backboards are true to the 19th century. The colors on your chromolithograph remain vibrant and overall the image seems to be in great condition. If it were in an auction I would not hesitate to put a $300 to $500 estimate on it. Congratulations on a wonderful find!