Salmon painted Picture of the "Dream" Pleasure Yacht in December 1839, when he was at the height of his career as painter of the ships and shoreline of Boston. Like the larger Boston Harbor from Castle Island (Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) of the same year, this portrait of the schooner yacht "Dream" cruising off Castle Island has an animating light rarely matched in his early art. It brings together elements of the finest paintings Salmon produced in his studio on the Marine Railway Wharf, balancing "anecdotal detail and spaciousness of effect, documentation and imaginative design, forms in light and shadow, sensations of motion and stopped action."
Salmon settled in Boston in 1828 and spent the next 14 years painting the harbour area from Nahant to Milton, carefully recording the new buildings and commercial activity underway. He was associated with the city's leading merchant families, many of whom were engaged in the China trade and owned vessels or shipping lines operating out of Boston's busy wharves. The "Dream" was a distinctive sight in Boston Harbour. Not only was the schooner a very different type from most early Boston yachts, but it belonged to Boston's first informal yacht club. Built by Webb & Allen in New York in 1833, it was sold in 1835 to the "Dream" Club, a group of a dozen friends organized by Robert Bennet Forbes, who paid $200 each to use the yacht on a cooperative basis. Captain Forbes was one of Salmon's most important patrons. He owned at least nine paintings by the artist, including a series based on William Falconer's dramatic poem "The Shipwreck." The owner of this portrait, Isaac Davis, was a founding member of the "Dream" Club.
The rowboat with figures in the left foreground was a frequent motif of Salmon's harbour views. It served to establish the scale and to add a certain narrative element, and it later appeared in the harbour scenes of his greatest successor, Fitz Hugh Lane.
Elizabeth Garrity Ellis