'Thomas', 'Brothers', 'Samuel' and 'North Briton' in the Arctic - Robert Willoughby (1803)
oil on canvas, 136 x 177 cm
KINCM:2007.1321, Hull Maritime Museum

The earliest securely dated canvas by Willoughby, signed on a clump of ice in the left hand corner, depicts Samuel Cooper’s whaleship fleet, one of the most significant whale ship owners in Hull, and a picture presumably painted for him. Willoughby depicts each of Cooper’s four named ships, the Thomas, Brothers, Samuel, and North Briton – the last a facetious name for Scotland – in two (profile and stern) views, suggesting a prosperous, cooperative Arctic scene. Indeed, the dominant pink palette of the canvas suggests a quite literal rose-tinted view of the northern fishery. Surrounding the ships are a large number of whale boats attacking a plethora of whales. In the right foreground are a number of the senior members of ships’ crews engaged in polar hunting for sport, clambering over the ice in pursuit of bears and seals. One has lost their footing. As in the Munificence and Other Whalers in the Arctic, Willoughby employs the ice, this time more rocky in appearance, in the right foreground as a repoussoir landscape effect, to guide the perhaps provincial viewer’s eye into the painting, creating a serpentine line of beauty, made famous by William Hogarth’s 1753 Analysis of Beauty, and familiar from many eighteenth-century river scenes, curving into the picture, thanks to the block of ice he also adds on the mid-left. In the year in which the painting was completed, the Napoleonic Wars, between Britain and France, that had briefly ceased in 1802, recommenced..

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum