SS Ottawa by Olaf Gulbrandsen
Oil on canvas, 7" x 14"

This small painting of the SS Ottawa, a cargo freighter, is signed "Olaf Gulbrandsen, 1917." 

"Norge" as painted on her hull with Ottawa, is her Country of Origin identification as a neutral Norwegian vessel during the First World War.  The Norwegian Flag is also painted on the sides of the hull.  German U-boats of WWI could clearly see these markings through their periscopes.  Ottawa was built as SS Craigisla in 1906 at Port Glasgow by A. Rodgers (Scot & Company), and enjoyed a 35-year career under various names until torpedoed by a German U-boat in an Allied convoy in 1941.  Her names were as follows: 1906 - 1910 SS Craigisla; 1910-1935 SS Ottawa; 1935 -1939 SS Senta; 1939-1942 SS Siremalm.  She was 2,462 Gross Registry Tons, 1,583 Net Tons.  She was capable of a speed of 9 knots, and powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 248 NHP.  As Ottawa her signal letters were MGDR.

In this painting, SS Ottawa is headed to the United States, as evidenced by the American courtesy flag at the foremast.  The Norwegian flag is at her stern.  At the time of the painting she was managed by Fred Thomas Bergh of Porsgrund, Norway.  His house flag flies from her mainmast and his funnel markings appear as a "B" in a white band on a black funnel.  The mountain-top, seen in the right background of the painting, is probably in Norway.

The following biography of Olaf Gulbrandsen was researched and submitted by George Edwards, of Virginia.  The Steamship Historical Society of America thanks Mr. Edwards for research and submission of this biography.

Olaf Gulbrandsen was a Norwegian painter of ship portraits in the early 1900s.  He mostly painted merchant steamships but there are some known examples of sailing vessels.  He typically signed his name rather big and bold as Olaf Gulbrandsen, but the key to uncovering his story is that his full name was Bernt Olaf Gulbrandsen.  He was born in Christiania (or Kristiania, former name of modern day Oslo) on March 26, 1864, the son of Ole Gulbrandsen and Anne Sophie Michalsdatter.  Olaf was baptized on May 8, 1864, in Grønland parish and his name was recorded as Bernt Oluf Gulbrandsen (Oluf may be a mistake).

In the census of 1885, Gulbrandsen was listed as a sailmaker.   Olaf is identified as a seaman and a sailmaker in church records. In the census of 1900, he is identified as a painter and a master sign painter. The family of six lived in one room and shared the kitchen with lodgers.

The census of 1910 is the most revealing.  His occupation is given as ‘portrait painter (marine portraits)’ and his studio is given as No. 2 Raadhusgaten.  They have eight children, aged 1 to 22.  Ragnar, 18, is the oldest boy and is listed as learning to be a portrait painter with his father.  It turned out that Erling, who was two years younger (born 1894), became a painter of ships and had his own studio by 1929. 

Most of Olaf's paintings include “Kra.” for Kristiania, with his signature. However, his studio moved, as indicated in a painting of the jekt (an old type of sailing cargo vessel) "Annaavala” which is signed: Olaf Gulbrandsen, Bergen 1919.

So far no record of Gulbrandsen’s death has been found.  Death records may not be available until 100 years after his death.


Kristiania Adressebok, multiple years.

Oslo Adressebok, 1927 and 1929.

The Record of American and Foreign Shipping, 1917.


< Back to collection