The Paddle-Wheelers Natchez & Robert E. Lee

Unknown Artist, Circa Early 1870s

Gouache on Paper

Sight Size 18 3/4″  x 28″
Framed to 33 3/8″ “ x 43 “


The Natchez ( Vicksburg-Natchez-New Orleans Packet ) built in Cincinnati, the Robert E. Lee* ( Louisville- St. Louis-New Orleans Packet ) from Jeffersonville , Indiana. The two participant’s match race was the most celebrated American paddle-wheeler competition ever held. The boats left New Orleans on June 30th arriving at St. Louis on the fourth of July, 1870. The Lee finished 6 hrs. ahead of the swifter Natchez though several contributing factors enabled the tenacious Lee’s captain a win. The race garnered international attention in the press, at the time, and was subsequently printed by Currier & Ives. Two images of the C&I hand colored lithographs can be viewed below.

The images seen here are of paintings gifted by William Woodard of Louisville, Ky. to the India House, a commerce society in lower Manhatten. Their building constructed after a fire in 1835. In 1925 a redesign of the building allowed a Marine room which held a maritime collection of gifted art and ship models among where the Natchez & Lee hung. Both remained in the collection until deaccessioned almost a century later. Gifted by a Louisvillian suggests a possibility for origin might be within Louisville or Cincinnati vicinities where the vessels were constructed. Louisville the better candidate as it might constitute a victory lap for the winner’s manufacturing locale coupled with ownership of the paintings in 1925 before being transferred from that city. See an image of a period photograph below of the Natchez and a facsimile later postcard image of the Lee.

Both paintings in very good condition, retaining strong coloring, evidently having little sun exposure within the marine room. Buried perimeter damage due to former mats partially attaching to images . See supporting photos for images of either unframed revealing the afore mentioned losses. A 1 1/2” inch repaired tear in the water below the mid section of the Natchez’s hull. Minute areas of re-touch totaling less than a half square inch on the two combined. Both in associated fine period gold leaf frames with UV filtering glass, acid free backings, spacers so to avoid glass contact, and modern black liners. When deaccessioned both works in later 20th century framing with presentation plaques. One possibly original mat remained and now retained separately for inclusion. The original tattered Natchez packet legend retained affixed to the reverse of the framing. Brass plaques, dating from the gifted period, now attached to back side of the works where once mounted on the front. An image of the later framing when donated is among the support images.

*Notes on the Robert E. Lee: Built in 1866 at a cost of over 200,000- stretching to 285 feet. Considered the most luxurious paddle-wheeler on the inter coastal waters reportedly appointed with solid rosewood furniture and a dining room containing 20 extension tables to seat 240. The record time, established in 1870 by the Lee (nick-named “Monarch of the Mississippi” ), stood for a commercial boat traveling from New Orleans to St. Louis until 1929 when broken by a motor boat named “Bogie”.