Neck and Neck

Oil Painting by  Tim Thompson
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They were known to the British as the “Big Class.” The America’s Cup boats of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were unruly — sometimes downright perilous — racing machines.

British artist Tim Thompson captures the danger in the speed and power of these 120-foot megasloops in his startling work Neck and Neck. Everything is big: the taut canvas sails, the bow waves, the crashing sea — everything except the crewmen. They were Thompson’s inspiration. “I wanted to capture the action, showing the daring bowmen,” he says.

Anyone who has manned the foredeck on a racing boat, be it a J/24 or a Cup boat, knows the feeling: riding the bucking bow, spray flying, hands wet, face streaming, out there to handle a snapping, flapping headsail. “What a job to work those sails and lines in that precarious position,” Thompson says.

The boats could be Valkyrie II and Vigilant from the 1893 Cup, the 67-year-old artist says, “but I added little embellishments. It’s a general racing scene; it’s no particular moment or race. What’s important are the crewmen on the foredeck and bowsprit.”

Thompson draws on the techniques of 17th-century Dutch artists to create shades of color with washes and tints, “always trying to get the light to give a glow to the sails,” he says.

Thompson got his first break as an artist after an injury at work while he was a horticulturist in England. “I took the easel and started to make a better living by painting nautical historical subjects in Plymouth and Devon,” he says.

Born in Hull, England, in 1951, Thompson lived for a time on the rugged, sea-girt Channel Islands. He now resides and paints in Cornwall. Honored in Great Britain, Thompson’s book, Gold Medal Rescues, about the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, has a foreword by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who signed a limited edition of his print commemorating the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

To view this and other works by Tim Thompson, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Call ahead for gallery hours, (203) 521-1099.

This article originally appeared in the May2018 issue.