Grappling for the Lost Cable

Robert Charles Dudley (British, 1826–1900)

ca. 1866
Oil on canvas
22 3/4 x 33 1/8 in. (57.8 x 84.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Cyrus W. Field, 1892
Accession Number:
  • Provenance

    Cyrus W. Field, New York (until 1892)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Cyrus W. Field Collection of Paintings," 1894, no. 40.

  • References

    Henry M[artyn]. Field. The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph. New York, 1892, ill. opp. p. 364, as "The Great Eastern at Midnight, Sept. 1, 1866, When it Had Picked Up the Cable" in the caption and "The Great Eastern at Midnight When She Had Picked Up the Cable" in the list of illustrations.

    Cyrus W. Field. Letter to the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. May 5, 1892, offers his collection of objects commemorating the laying of the Atlantic cable, including this painting, to the MMA.

    Daniel Huntington. Letter to General Luigi Palma di Cesnola. May 3, 1892, strongly recommends the accession of this series (92.10.42-47), noting that it represents "one of the important events of our times".

    Josephine C. Dobkin. "The Laying of the Atlantic Cable: Paintings, Watercolors, and Commemorative Objects Given to the Metropolitan Museum by Cyrus W. Field." Metropolitan Museum Journal 41 (2006), pp. 155, 157–58, 167, Appendix no. 4, fig. 4, notes that this is the fourth picture in the series, showing the September 1, 1866 recovery of the cable which had snapped during the unsuccessful 1865 attempt to lay the cable.

  • Notes

    This series of six paintings (92.10.42–47) illustrates the laying of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. After unsuccessful attempts in 1857, 1858, and 1865, the cable was finally laid and brought into use in 1866. Cyrus W. Field, the donor of the works, was a founder of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and instrumental in the laying of the cable.

    The six pictures illustrate the sequence of events as follows [see Ref. Dobkin 2006]:

    1) Landing the Shore End of the Atlantic Cable (92.10.44)

    2) Making the Splice between the Shore End and the Ocean Cable (92.10.47)

    3) Landing at Newfoundland (92.10.46)

    4) Grappling for the Lost Cable (92.10.45)

    5) Awaiting the Reply (92.10.43)

    6) Homeward Bound: 'The Great Eastern' (92.10.42)

    Five of the six (92.10.42-46) were illustrated in "The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph" by Henry M. Field [see Ref. Field 1892] without attribution to Dudley. Dudley also executed a series of watercolors (MMA 92.10.48–91) depicting each of the attempts to lay the cable, from 1857 to 1866, which are unrelated to the compositions of the paintings. Some of these watercolors were used as illustrations in William H. Russell's book "The Atlantic Telegraph" (1866; MMA 92.10.100). Field also donated several related commemorative objects, documents, and medals (MMA 92.10.1–40, 92.10.92–99).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History