Whaleship 'Lee' - Robert Willoughby (1813)
oil on canvas, 70 x 101 cm
KINCM:2007.2264 Hull Maritime Museum

The whale ship Lee was first registered at Hull in 1813, before being lost in the Davis Strait in 1835. The precise dating and form of the picture suggests a ship’s portrait commissioned by its owner, with the ship in three different views, sailing confidently towards the horizon in two lost stern views, and one starboard view. The purposeful dynamism of the foreshortened ships, proudly flying their Union Jack merchant ensign, and absence of any indications of an Arctic location, combined with the smoky grey clouds towards the top left, recall numerous Napoleonic ships’ battle scenes popular in the period. After hostilities ceased in 1815, many British warships were repurposed as whalers, and ambitious naval officers increasingly turned their attention to Arctic exploration. At the other end of the planet, in 1813, the year in which the canvas was fashioned, the Cape of Good Hope became a British colony. The British empire increasingly stretched from pole to pole.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum