Forward Deck of the Great Eastern Cleared for the First Attempt to Grapple for the Lost Cable, August 11th, 1865
Robert Charles Dudley (British, 1826–1909)
Watercolor over graphite with touches of gouache
Sheet: 6 15/16 × 10 3/8 in. (17.6 × 26.3 cm)
Gift of Cyrus W. Field, 1892
Not on view
One of the 19th century's great technological achievements was to lay a telegraphic cable beneath the Atlantic, allowing messages to speed back and forth between North America and Europe in minutes, rather than ten or twelve days by steamer. An initially successful attempt in 1858, led by Cyrus W. Field and financed by the Atlantic Telegraph Company, failed after three weeks. Two working cables were finally laid in July and September 1866, the result of repeated efforts by the indefatigable Field, a cadre of engineers, technicians, and sailors, two groups of financial backers, and significant help from the British and United States navies. Dudley documented the process in a series of watercolors and oils, this example showing preparations to retrieve the cable lost overboard on August 2, 1865. Repeated grappling failed at this time but, the next summer, the Great Eastern managed to find and raise the cable, then lay it on to Newfoundland. In 1892 Field donated art works by Dudley, commemorative medals, memorabilia, and specimens of cable to the Museum.
Cyrus W. Field; Donor: Cyrus W. Field
Sir William Howard Russell The Atlantic Telegraph. London, 1866, A variant image of a third grappling attempt on the same day, illustrated opp. p. 98.
Josephine C. Dobkin "Metropolitan Museum Journal" The Laying of the Atlantic Cable: Paintings, Watercolors, and Commemorative Objects Given to the Metropolitan Museum by Cyrus W. Field. 41, 2006, pp. 155-70.