An artist on the Carpathia paints Titanic survivors

By 1912, Colin Campbell Cooper had made a name for himself as an Impressionist painter—one who found inspiration in the skyscrapers and modern cityscape of New York, where he lived since 1904.

But two paintings he was moved to create after one of the most famous disasters of the 20th century might be his most personal.

On April 11, Cooper and his wife boarded the steamship Carpathia in New York, bound for Croatia.

The voyage was unremarkable, until midnight on April 15. That’s when a wireless operator reported getting a distress call from the Titanic, which had hit an iceberg 70 miles away.

The Carpathia turned around and raced toward the Titanic in hopes of rescuing passengers. Finally at 4 a.m., two boatloads of women and children were picked up from the Atlantic, Cooper’s wife later detailed in a letter.

Like others on the Carpathia, “[Cooper] and his wife gave up their cabin to the exhausted, emotionally numb passengers,” wrote Stephanie Sammartino McPherson in her book, Iceberg, Right Ahead! The Tragedy of the Titanic.

“But Cooper wanted to do something more. The beauty and tragedy of the rescue scene haunted him.”

After the Carpathia delivered weary Titanic survivors to Chelsea Piers and the ship continued to the Mediterranean, “Cooper completed two paintings,” McPherson wrote.

“One shows the Carpathia cruising past icebergs against an early morning sky. The other shows five small lifeboats approaching the ship, perfectly poised in the middle of the picture between choppy blue water and a pale pink sky.”

The second painting is one of the few first-hand accounts of what it was like to be greeted by the survivors who rowed into the frigid night and watched their unsinkable ocean liner descend into the Atlantic.

Cooper also apparently painted the icebergs he saw in the ocean—cold white and dark blue against a pinkish twilight.

[Last photo: Encyclopedia Titanica]

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15 Responses to “An artist on the Carpathia paints Titanic survivors”

  1. ksbeth Says:

    these are amazing

  2. Zoé Says:

    This is astonishing! I never heard of these before. One would think they would have been used in some of the Titanic documentaries – even if not covering this artist painting them. (Or I missed them in those).

    Perhaps he felt the need to paint in order to cope himself.

    That they gave up their own beds is precious. I wonder where they slept then.

    These are simply amazing. The iceberg ones are both beautiful & frightening. The painting of the people in the boat looks so colourful. After so many black & white photos of the survivors after rescue – I picture them in b&w in my mind. The colourful clothing in this painting really brings it home. So sad…

    Thank you so much for these Ephemeral

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    One of the paintings makes an appearance as a live shot at the very end of James Cameron’s movie….the lifeboats approaching Carpathia move and look like the paintings, which are tremendous.

    It’s amazing how that sinking, which was not the greatest maritime disaster in history — t was the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff with 5,000 aboard in 1945 — still grips the public imagination in a way that no other sinking does.

    • Zoé Says:

      There have been several books on the sinking of the Gustloff; the most recent one published several years ago (written by a woman in the town I’m living in now). The other may have been written in German & translated (I’ve forgotten).

      The ship was full of German refugee civilians forcibly driven from East Prussia etc. by the Soviets. Including many children.

      The anti-German sentiment gives the answer as to why very few Americans have heard of it. Or even remember if they had ever heard of it.

      My grandmother was from East Prussia (now Poland) but left c.1900 as a child when her family moved to Berlin. I need some papers from there now (Poland formerly East Prussia/Germany) of birth dates etc.; to search for the fate of three family members in Berlin under the Nazis & then the Allied bombings. (One murdered in the T4/’Euthanasia’ disability murder program; the other gone missing during the bombings. The other possibly murdered by the SS).

      What a harrowing evil act – the sinking of a ship full of refugees & children. The captain (or whatever his rank was) that was behind the sinking of that ship became a Soviet hero. Still now he is seen that way there. His life did not go well after that if I’m remembering correctly.

      The most tragic photo that really really haunts me is the famous one of the young mother looking exhausted & boarding the ship with her tiny sad looking children in tow. Now I am going to have nightmares tonight.

      Thanks for telling me about that scene being used in the James Cameron film! (I’m assuming you mean the drama vs documentary). I was really wondering about that after Ephemeral posted this & wether he used the paintings to storyboard the film or for the cinematography. He said in interviews that he had looked at *everything* – so that makes perfect sense. You are obviously a film fanatic like me – only I don’t like to remember that film. It was great but the sinking of the Titanic haunts my thoughts. (The real life survivor tales).

      The person who gave me a raking here for getting autobiographical is *really* going to hate me now; but I have to tell the following story!

      My grandfather’s brothers were the second two Lebanese in an Ohio steel town in the 1890s. (I’d say which but I’m leaving an identity theft trail online…). My grandfather followed them in the 1910s. I found out only in the last few years that many of those who died (& also survived) the sinking of the Titanic were from Lebanon & the same area. (One town lost almost all it’s young men on the Titanic). Including a number of people who travelled to & from this Ohio Lebanese community of my grandfather’s.

      Several of them had the same last name as my grandfather. So I still have to do the research to find out if they were cousins. They may have only had the same name because as Christians in order to fit in w/ English naming practises many of us ended up w/ the first name of our father as our last name on American paperwork. Because when asked we answered *first name* son/daughter of *father’s first name*. The family name (often an occupation or place name or saint) which comes after those names was stated when asked for it – but not immediately in common discourse. (Sometimes our grandfather’s first name was/is part of our name as well. You would freak out if you heard how long my name is in Aramaic/Arabic). Anyway – that is why I still don’t know if anyone from our family or town (in Lebanon) was killed in the Titanic sinking. I never met my grandfather as he died before I was born & my father never mentioned any of the above. Which was surprising. Since this whole group of people from this Ohio town died & they were all from the same place in South Lebanon.

      Btw – one of these Lebanese saved a lot of children during the sinking & lost his own life doing so & died a hero. We were called ‘Syrian’ and/or ‘Turkish’/’Turk’ on the passenger lists & in official reports etc. (Because Lebanon was then part of Syria & the Ottoman Empire then).

      James Cameron added a scene in the third class scene where a character speaks Arabic. And the party dance scene in third class in that film was taken from a real life survivor account of a Lebanese family having a hafleh (party) in third or second class for a wedding.

      • Zoé Says:

        Here is a survivor’s account from a Lebanese American woman who had immigrated to my grandfather’s city in Ohio & travelled on the Titanic w/ her four male cousins who were killed. She told a moving story of another Lebanese woman she saw reunited w/ her five year old son aboard the Carpathia:

        Here is another article on the above:

        Here is the Wikipedia entry ‘Passengers of the RMS Titanic’.
        If you scroll down to the subtitle ‘Levantine passengers’ it quotes a historian/author as having written “154 Syrians on board the Titanic and 29 were saved: four men, five children and 20 women.” It’s a very interesting Wikipedia article in entirety:

        I wonder if anyone found out who was the *mystery ship* that the passengers saw & which turned away. Theories?

      • Zoé Says:

        PS: The Lebanese woman from my grandfather & father’s Ohio town & her four cousins in the article linked above were probably not distant cousins of my grandfather; as they were from the North & my family is from the South. But other Lebanese on the Titanic who lost their lives were from the South.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        I have the recent book on the Gustloff, “Death in the Baltic,” and “The Damned Don’t Drown,” which is the German book translated. It also has some coverage in John Toland’s “The Last 100 Days.” They recently found the wreck.

        Being a WW2 historian, I’m pretty familiar with this bizarre and horrific tale. The Gustloff was named for the Nazi Party leader in Switzerland, who was shot by an anti-Nazi, and built to accommodate “Strength Through Joy” cruises. Instead it was used as a troop transport and for evacuation.

        The shot was used in the movie, not a documentary.

        That’s fascinating stuff about your Lebanese family. I was aware there were a lot of interesting folks on Titanic besides the well-documented Britons and Americans: I know Marlie Alberts, a relative of the lone black passenger, a French-Haitian, who went down with the ship, whose family survived. We did an event at City Hall in Newark with her, and she posed with a reproduction newspaper of the Titanic meeting her fate.

        There was also a Japanese naval officer travelling in second class, who got off the ship and Fifth Officer Lowe put him to work rowing. He got a lot of flak when he got home to Japan for not going down with the ship.

        Don’t forget Canadian Army Major Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, Commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, who slid down a rope to man one of the boats, the only male passenger Lightoller let in a boat that whole night. Canada often gets forgotten.

        I remember seeing the Lebanese family in the movie, and once went through the passenger list to find an Arabic-sounding name set, and I think I did.

      • Zoé Says:

        How interesting about the other survivors you mentioned David. And your meeting w/ the Haitian family. I can see how the Japanese man would have had trouble when he got back to Japan. As it’s an honour culture.

        I have a list of every Lebanese and/or Syrian and/or Palestinian passenger grouped w/ their families. I did a lot of online research about it awhile ago. I think it’s in my email account from around 2015. I don’t have a computer – just my phone – & have had trouble w/ the search application for my email account since Outlook/Microsoft changed the phone interface a few years ago. Half the time I can’t access my old emails at all on my phone.

        So allow me to just describe to you that I found that info on one of the main Titanic sights. Where the whole passenger list was broken down by country.

        Re. my Lebanese family. After I wrote that here I added a PS; because after commenting I found an article w/ the Libnani woman who survived & lost her four cousins. (I linked that above). In it she said they were from the North of Lebanon. We are from the South. Perhaps someone was lost from the Marjeyoun area where we are from; but it was not this woman & her four cousins. I think other towns in Ohio & definitely other states lost Lebanese Americans also (or soon to be Americans). I have the whole list.

        My family are storytellers (lol – if that was not yet evident!) so I’m sure I would have heard of this if it was anyone in our family. That’s why I was surprised that nobody had said anything about the Youngstown Titanic passengers. The thing that surprised me the most was how many Lebanese & other Syrians & N.Africans travelled back & forth. I never knew that until studying the Titanic passengers. It may fill in some holes in my research on my own family. As there is a gap in my grandfather’s census data. I couldn’t find anything for one decade.

        We have a Lebanese joke that we are all related & that if we only talk for half an hour we will find out how/find a cousin. Because it’s such a tiny country the size of Connecticut. It’s based in truth also. My grandfather went to a Mahrajan in Ohio (festival in the States where we would get together to eat & dance & play music etc.) & sat down at a picnic table & began talking to a man he didn’t know. After only a few minutes they found out that their grandfathers were related. Lol. This man was the father or grandfather (?) of Danny Thomas (also from OH). I will probably remember the exact places on the family tree right after I hit ‘submit’ here.

        I really want to read the books we’ve discussed. They’ve been on my reading list for ages. Which is not technically a list but a huge file by now! 🐬🌊🐚🌲🏔🌞

      • David H Lippman Says:

        This is all fascinating stuff. The Australian 6th Infantry Division and a Free French Brigade fought a battle with Vichy French forces at Marjayoun during the Allied invasion of Vichy French Syria in 1941, defeating the latter.

        The three most famous people I know of who have Lebanese descent are Philip Habib, Tony Shalhoub, and Jame Farr (Farah). The latter built his Lebanese ancestry into his character on “M*A*S*H,” expanding Corporal Klinger beyond the one-note gag of the guy trying to get out of the Army dressed in women’s clothing.

        The Arab community in New York City originally lived in the area between Fulton Street in Manhattan and Battery Park. They were forced to move when Robert Moses bulldozed the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel into that neighborhood, and they quite literally moved through the tunnel to Atlantic Avenue just below Brooklyn Heights, where some of them are still today.

      • Zoé Says:

        Our lovely host Ephemeral did a post referencing Little Syria 🌲🏔🌊🛳🗽🏛⚖️🕍⛪️🕌📿☕️☕️💂🏽👳🏽🌞

      • Zoé Says:

        Ya Habibi David wrote: “Atlantic Avenue”

        Marhaba Mr. Sahadi!

        Please go to Sahadis & the other Arab ‘Syrian’ shops on Atlantic everyone. Now I am suddenly very hungry! 🌯🌯🐟🐟🍷🍷

      • Zoé Says:

        PS for David re. “French”

        Yes they occupied us (*rolls eyes & makes fleeting angry face* … along w/ half of the rest of the planet… Don’t get me started – the US govt is reading me type this on my phone…).

        Since you have expressed an interest Marjeyoun has a great online website where some gifted person from there has posted an ocean of photos of beautiful vistas & people & buildings. I think there may be some of a former French military building there. (A private family estate home used as a headquarters I think. I’ve forgotten).

        Speaking of *everyone* – my grandfather went to a Russian school there. The Tsar created schools for the little ones all over Syria (Greater Syria then which included Lebanon).

      • Zoé Says:

        Re. Atlantic Avenue/Brooklyn Heights

        I forgot to say David: Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church in that neighbourhood – found its original Little Syria cornerstone when it was unearthed in the rubble of the Trade Towers.

        They now have the cornerstone in the church. If you go to their website you can read an interesting history of their original building in Little Syria & the community there & see the cornerstone. Also there was a list of the many parishioners killed in the attack (memory eternal).

        The Melkite Church building in Little Syria is still standing. Prior to being a church it was a secular building & reverted to that; but you can still see the icon of St.George above the door. (I think it was an Irish bar for awhile!).

        The Syrian Orthodox Church in Little Syria was on an upper floor of another building only – before moving to Brooklyn where it is now.

        There were Syrian Jews in the neighbourhood also. I think it was the late Jack Shaheen (Lebanese American researcher/scholar/author/advocate re. negative media portrayal of Arabs) who said that Syrian Jews Christians Muslims all lived together then because they all wanted to be near the same food…

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Yes, my great-grandfather cut his Polish-Jewish jawbreaker last name to “Lippman” at Ellis Island. Would that he had made it easier to spell, like “Wayne” or “Fonda.”

        Thanks for sharing all that good stuff.

      • Zoé Says:

        PS David

        Re. What you wrote about “Arabic-sounding name set”

        Keep in mind – everyone anglicised/latinised there names then. My grandfather Touma became Tom. Aunt Sayud (Saud) became Sadie. Etc. And then – as I wrote – their father’s first name became their last name. (Surprisingly this was already written on my grandfather’s ship’s passenger list when he left the port of Beirut. Gone was our ancient family name & in its place my great grandfather’s first name as a surname vs a middle name. I saw that on the Ellis Island site). Hence the many Peter & Joseph & Thomas & Michael surnames.

        For that reason the better thing is to look at the point of origin which should be on the passenger list. (Although many Lebanese left from Marseilles vs. Beirut). Or where it says someone is ‘Syrian’ or ‘Turk’. (Also I read that Muslim Syrians/Lebanese/Palestinians were often written of as ‘Turk’ & Christians as ‘Syrian’. And hence probably Lebanese & Palestinian Jews as ‘Syrian’ also).

        But as I wrote somebody already did the work & it’s on one (or more) of the major Titanic websites. (US and/or Irish/Ireland).

        And thanks for looking up our people on those lists – we need all the love we can get these days! Lol… not the most popular right now… Blessings!

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