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View of a red-painted battleship in a harbor. Two smokestacks visible.

Building a Battleship, The Maine

On January 25, 1898, the battleship USS Maine arrived in Havana’s waters. Its mission was to protect U.S. citizens who were threatened by the riots related to the ongoing Cuban War of Independence (1895–98). The ship was at anchor in Havana Harbor until it mysteriously exploded and sank on February 15, 1898. Approximately 260 U.S. sailors died in the accident, which was likely caused by erupting furnaces. Nevertheless, many in the United States blamed Spanish aggression. 

This painting, by Carlton Theodore Chapman, depicts the boat in drydock during its refurbishment, with its red, antifouling paint gleaming. Constructed in 1888 and commissioned in 1895, the Maine was among the first armored vessels of the “new” U.S. Navy. Chapman may have meant this painting to be a visual record of the navy’s modernization, but it also functions as a portrait of U.S. naval power.

Carlton T. Chapman (1860–1925)
Oil on canvas
52.1 × 64.8 cm (20 1/2 × 25 1/2 in.)
New-York Historical Society; gift of Mrs. Carlton T. Chapman