According to the recollections of his daughter Flora Raleigh Phinney, Charles Sidney Raleigh produced more than eleven hundred paintings, six hundred of them of whaling ships. Raleigh had an early introduction to maritime pursuits. Born in Gloucester, England, in 1831, he left home at the age of ten and spent the next thirty years as a sailor and merchant seaman.
In 1870 Raleigh married and settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, earning a living as a house painter and decorator. By 1881 he had established himself in Bourne, Massachusetts, where he continued to work as an ornamental painter, decorating carriages and house and church interiors. He also designed offical seals for the town of Bourne and for the Smithsonian Institution.
Concurrently he was painting marine subjects, including an ambitious whaling panorama of twenty-two panels executed in 1878-1880. Although Raleigh's experience at sea did not include working on a whaler, he knew these vessels and their captains well and was thus able to render the ships with authenticity. In addition to these and other marine paintings, Raleigh's subjects included occasional portraits (Admiral Dewey and Grover Cleveland among them) and still lifes.
Raleigh seems to have worked in more than one style. His ship portraits are polished and detailed--he is known to have used fine brushes with as few as two or three hairs in order to paint accurately the rigging on each vessel. His animal subjects are more broadly painted and have simplified modeling
Raleigh died in Bourne on 28 March 1925. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Charles Sidney Raleigh Papers. Archives of American Art. Microfilm reel MF 3891.
"The Versatile Charles S. Raleigh." Old Dartmouth Historical Society and Whaling Museum Bulletin (Fall 1958): 1-3.
Purrington, Philip F. Four Years A-whaling. Illustrated by Charles S. Raleigh. Barre, Massachusetts, 1972.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 314-315.