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DEREK G.M. GARDNER | Sovereign of The Seas

DEREK G.M. GARDNER | Sovereign of The Seas


30" x 40" / 76cms x 102cms
Oil on Canvas


Sovereign of the Seas can justifiably be considered among the best Clippers ever built. When constructed in 1852 she was the largest Clipper in the world and her design had consumed McKay for some time. Amazingly, despite her size, Sovereign achieved the fastest speed ever achieved by a commercial sailing ship, a record of 22 knots which she holds to this day; she also held the outright sailing speed record for over 100 years. Beyond her near-perfect design, Sovereign of the Seas was captained by Donald’s brother Laughlan, who thus had an unparalleled knowledge of the ship, which goes some way to explaining her tremendous speed. With such pace, Sovereign would also be the first ship to travel more than 400 miles in 24 hours, a rate that had been held as nearly impossible for previous generations. It is telling that of the only 6 other Clippers to achieve this feat, 5 of them were built by McKay.


Sovereign of the Seas was also widely known for a famous race she undertook in 1853, a widely reported contest that she took against the steamship SS Canada to determine the fastest vessel over a period of 5 days. Sovereign performed better than even McKay envisaged, averaging a speed 3 knots faster than the steamer over the entire 120-hour trip, a considerable gap that solidified the position of the Clipper for another two decades and of course made McKay’s designs even more highly valued. With her speed and commercial efficiency, Sovereign and ships like her ensured the continuing presence of sail on the ocean. Despite her untimely end in 1859, running aground in the Straight of Malacca (a fate which seemed to befall all the greatest ‘extreme’ Clippers), the legacy of her speed is assured.

  • Gardner is widely considered to be the leading British maritime painter of the 20th century.

    Entirely self-taught, he became a master of his art with an unmatched skill for conveying the colour, luminosity and atmosphere of the maritime setting.

    During World War II, he served with the Royal Navy on armed trawlers and destroyers in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean Sea.

    In 1988 the Royal Society of Marine Artists elected Gardner as their honorary vice-president for life.

    In 2005, as part of celebration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar an exhibition of his work featuring a painting of every ship in which Nelson served, was presented in London.

    His work is included in several marine art texts and held in public collections including the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

    Read more about Derek Gardner. 

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