Eskimo Throwing a Harpoon - Hugh Collins (1877)
oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm
KINCM:2007.1592, Hull Maritime Museum

Collins’s portrait of an Inuit man about to throw a harpoon was likely to have been a fashionable subject when it was first painted in 1877, completed, as it was, midway between the publication in 1864 of Charles Francis Hall’s popular Life with the Eskimo, and the influential anthropologist Franz Boas’s fieldwork in Arctic Canada between 1883-4. Perhaps drawing on harpoons and seal-skin jackets and hoods brought back to Hull or Dundee by the whalers, who often bartered with the Inuit for their clothes and tools, in exchange for medicines, ceramics, and other comparatively durable European items, Collins depicts a scene that fascinated Victorians who wintered in the Arctic amongst the Inuit, an increasingly common practice so as to be able to begin the hunting scene earlier. This was the moment when, after a many hours wait at a seal hole, the Inuit hunter thrust the harpoon down to kill his finally-emerging prey. Comparatively little is known about portrait, landscape, and genre painter, Collins, but work also in Dundee suggests an artist connected to the whaling industry.

help icon

Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum