Hull Whaler 'Elizabeth' - Attributed to Robert Willoughby (c.1812-1828)
oil on canvas, 63 x 89
KINCM:1962.13, Hull Maritime Museum

The Elizabeth was built in 1784 and entered the Hull Fisheries in 1812. The vessel was presumably named, in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, after Elizabeth I, and thus aligned itself with both the Elizabethan defeat of the Spanish Armada, and Elizabethan voyages of discovery, such as those of Martin Frobisher to the Arctic in the mid-sixteenth century.

Likely a specific commission for the ship’s owner or captain, and bearing a close formal similarity to Willoughby’s Aurora of around the same moment, the painter again depicts the whaler in four views: in the far distance on the left; in dynamic, lost stern view, centre left; sailing towards the horizon, far right; and in port view in the centre of the canvas, where the ship is anchored, surrounded by its whale boats. In the foreground, Willoughby this time includes a repoussoir ice floe, onto which the whalers are pulling a boat, clearly with an adjacent polar bear in their sights, whose skin represented a lucrative commodity in the period. In spite of the Arctic’s ongoing precarity, leading to the loss of the Elizabeth in the David Straits in 1828, Willoughby’s image reassuringly emphasises the stability of the polar environment, through his solid, rock-like ice-floes, and the way in which the central, anchored boat is depicted parallel to the horizon and picture plane. Nevertheless, the overall orientation of the picture is away from the Arctic and towards the horizon and home, with the smaller versions of the ship sailing into the picture plane, and then along the horizon line and out of the picture. The green sea again represents the long shadow of the Van de Veldes. 

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum