The Lost Art And Priceless Chattels Aboard The Titanic 

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950; Sinking of the Titanic, 1912–1913; oil on canvas; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 840:1983

When the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, it took with it many artefacts belonging to passengers, crew, and the ship itself. As we approach the 112 anniversary of the sinking here is what we have found out about the priceless chattels aboard the world’s most famous shipwreck.

The sinking of the Titanic remains one of history’s most haunting tragedies, captivating minds for over a century. Among the myriad stories of loss and heroism lies the forgotten tale of Francis Davis Millet, an esteemed American painter whose legacy met a watery grave along with the ill-fated vessel.

Millet, born on November 3, 1846, in Massachusetts, was not only renowned for his murals adorning the halls of the Boston public library but also for a collection of salon-style paintings that garnered considerable acclaim. A close confidant of the prolific John Singer Sargent, Millet’s name once shone brightly in artistic circles, yet time’s passage has dimmed the recognition of his remarkable oeuvre.

In the annals of tragedy, Millet’s fate stands as a reminder of the fragility of life and art. Despite his significant contributions to the American art scene, his name now whispers in the winds of memory, overshadowed by the grandeur of his contemporaries.

Millet’s journey through life took him beyond the confines of his birthplace. As a young man, he served as a drummer boy in the Civil War. He was also among the founders of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, before embarking on a twenty-five-year sojourn in the quaint Worcestershire town of Broadway, where he found inspiration amidst the English countryside.

Broadway became a haven for artists of various nationalities, including Millet and his esteemed friend Sargent. Their camaraderie and creative fervour flourished against the backdrop of picturesque landscapes and shared aspirations. It was here that Sargent famously crafted his masterpiece, ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,’ immortalising the essence of Dolly & Polly Barnard the daughters of Frederick Barnard (16 May 1846 – 28 September 1896) an English illustrator, caricaturist and genre painter noted for his work on the novels of Charles Dickens.

The tragedy of the Titanic not only claimed lives but also devoured treasures of immeasurable worth. Among the lost artefacts, a jewelled edition of The Rubaiyat, adorned with 1,500 precious stones set in gold, is a testament to human opulence and artistic craftsmanship. Sold for a princely sum of $1,900, this luxurious tome was destined for an American buyer, its journey abruptly halted by fate’s cruel hand.

Grand Staircase Titanic 1912
Grand Staircase Titanic 1912 Wikki Commons

Some of the notable items lost with the Titanic included:

Personal Belongings: Passengers aboard the Titanic carried various personal items such as clothing, jewellery, books, letters, and photographs, many of which were lost with the ship.

Fine China and Silverware: The Titanic had luxurious amenities in its dining rooms and private suites, including fine china, silverware, and glassware. Much of this tableware was lost when the ship sank.

Artwork and Decor: The Titanic boasted lavish interior decor, including ornate woodwork, wall panels, and artwork displayed throughout its public spaces. Many of these decorative elements were submerged in the ship.

Cargo: The Titanic also carried a significant amount of cargo, including machinery, textiles, foodstuffs, and other goods destined for the United States. All of this cargo was lost when the ship sank.

Ship Fittings: Various components of the Titanic’s structure, such as furniture, fixtures, and fittings, were lost as the ship descended to the ocean floor.

Personal Effects: Crew members and passengers lost personal effects such as wallets, keys, tools, and other everyday items in the sinking.

Over the years, numerous artefacts from the Titanic have been discovered and recovered from the wreckage site. These artefacts provide valuable insights into life aboard the Titanic and serve as poignant reminders of one of history’s most tragic maritime disasters. Many of these artefacts are now preserved and displayed in museums worldwide, allowing visitors to learn about the Titanic’s story and the lives of those aboard the ship.

The Fourth Minnesota Entering Vicksburg, c. 1904, Governor’s Reception Room at the Minnesota State CapitolFrancis D. Millet
The Fourth Minnesota Entering Vicksburg, c. 1904, Governor’s Reception Room at the Minnesota State Capitol Francis D. Millet

Several renowned artworks were reportedly lost when the Titanic sank in 1912. However, the exact details and integrity of these claims remain somewhat unclear due to the tragic circumstances of the event and the passage of time.

Some of the purported lost artworks include:

Francis David Millet’s paintings: Francis David Millet, an American painter, was aboard the Titanic and is believed to have been carrying several paintings with him. Millet was known for his historical and genre paintings, and it’s speculated that some of his works may have been lost in the sinking.

Other passenger artworks: Given the Titanic’s status as a luxury liner, it’s plausible that other passengers, including wealthy individuals and art collectors, may have been travelling with valuable artworks. The ship’s sinking likely resulted in losing personal belongings, including paintings and other artistic items.

While there are accounts and speculations about the presence of artworks on the Titanic, the exact details of which paintings were lost and who owned them remain largely undocumented. The sinking of the Titanic was a devastating event that resulted in the loss of numerous lives and valuable possessions, including potentially significant artworks by famous painters.

There were reports of valuable jewellery being lost in the sinking of the Titanic, and insurance claims were made for many of these items. Given the Titanic’s reputation as a luxurious vessel catering to wealthy passengers, it’s unsurprising that many individuals aboard carried valuable jewellery and other personal belongings. After the disaster, insurance companies faced numerous claims from passengers who had lost jewellery and other valuable items in the sinking. The process of assessing and settling these claims was complex and often contentious, as insurers sought to determine the extent of the losses and the validity of the claims.

Ultimately, insurance companies paid millions of dollars in claims for lost jewellery and other valuables resulting from the Titanic disaster. The process of settling these claims highlighted the financial and emotional toll of the tragedy on the passengers and their families, many of whom experienced significant losses of both life and property.

In the 1997 film “Titanic” directed by James Cameron, there is a scene where several automobiles are depicted being loaded onto the Titanic before its ill-fated voyage. However, this portrayal is not historically accurate. The Titanic did not carry any automobiles on board during its maiden voyage in 1912. In 1912 automobiles were still considered a luxury item and were not commonly transported on passenger ships, especially on transatlantic voyages like the one undertaken by the Titanic.

The inclusion of cars in the film was likely done for cinematic purposes to add visual interest and detail to the scenes depicting the loading and departure of the Titanic. While the film aimed to capture the grandeur and scale of the Titanic and its voyage, certain artistic liberties were taken,  to enhance the storytelling.

Top Photo: Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950; Sinking of the Titanic, 1912–1913; oil on canvas; Saint Louis Art Museum, Bequest of Morton D. May 840:1983 

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