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Lurid flames sweep San Francisco in William Alexander Coulter’s (1849-1936) panorama of the largest maritime rescue in United States history, where more than thirty-thousand people were taken from the shoreline between Fort Mason and the foot of Lombard Street. Mr. Coulter’s painting depicts the flotilla of rescue vessels ferrying survivors from the burning city to Sausalito.

Mr. Coulter painted from sketches drawn as he helped during the Dunkirk-like evacuation, and he took certain liberties with the San Francisco skyline to give this magnificent picture balance.

The eye, at first, is drawn to the large sailing ships highlighted against the thick, black smoke which obscured the downtown area. He moved the Hall of Justice near Chinatown to just left of center, the Call Building to just right of center, and depicted the burning of Nob Hill on the far right. True perspective would place almost all of these landmarks within the ominous smoke cloud.

This painting, executed on a 5 X 10-foot windowshade, hung for many years in San Francisco’s Commercial Club, and was later sold by Maxwell Galleries, Ltd.

Gladys Hansen
From Denial of Disaster

See a a brief biography of William Alexander Coulter

Lithograph courtesy of

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