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96-010 "Titanic: Cherbourg Bound"
1996, acrylic on illustration board

I am imprisoned, in some ways, by my background as a science artist, and that played a large role in this image of the doomed Titanic on her maiden voyage. I have been illustrating this famed ship all my life, but like many artists in recent years the excellent work of Ken Marschall (known to many through his work in the Robert Ballard shipwreck books) inspired me. One image I had admired was his painting of the Titanic from her starboard bow, plowing through the sea - and I endeavored to create a similar view. But copying was not my intent, so in addition to altering the perspective to the port bow, I changed the lighting conditions to place the sun off to starboard (it had been to port in Ken Marschall's image). With the geometry thus established, I made no more reference to the art that had inspired me, and proceeded to set the mood I wanted. But after completing the image, my science background compelled me to investigate exactly WHEN and WHERE this scene might occur during Titanic's short life. To my horror, my first detective work suggested Marschall was a lot smarter than I was, and that MY image was artistically pleasing but logically impossible!

The problem was that on Titanic's maiden voyage, she only made the west-bound leg - and in the northern hemisphere, that means the sun is on your left (port). Computer simulations confirmed this dire result: from sun rise to sun set, the sun was never more than a tiny bit to starboard - my starboard sunshine simply never happened. On a return trip east, no problem. But she never made one. Despairing, I checked all of Titanic's movements, and to my relief found that during her pre-voyage trials off Ireland she made many turns, placing the sun anywhere I wanted. But even better, the Titanic did make one southeastward journey on her maiden voyage: from Southampton, England, to Cherbourg France. It was a brief stop to pick up continental passengers, easy to forget in the Titanic story. For me, it was a Godsend. Computer simulations placed the setting afternoon sun in perfect position on April 10, 1912, at about 3:00 PM. And even the weather checked out! So here she comes, bound for Cherbourg...

Chris Butler

Copyright 1994-2003 by Chris Butler
More of Chris Butler's art can be viewed at Novagraphics Space Art.