Hull Whalers in the Arctic - Thomas Binks (1822)
oil on oak panel, 48 x 63.5 cm
KINCM:2005.4751, Hull Maritime Museum

Thomas Binks trained under local ship’s painter, Thomas Meggitt, and came to dominate the marine painting industry in Hull, following Willoughby’s retirement, combining the role of artist with an interior decorating business. The picture depicts four Hull whalers, one shown dramatically trapped in the ice, on the left, in a lost stern view. In the centre right is a still free ship, whose crew are flensing a whale on its port side, and whose whale boats have successfully killed another whale in the foreground. Immediately behind are two further ships, moored against the ice. Both the position of the smaller ship and the angle at which is depicted in the picture, as well as some of the landscape features surrounding it, recall, perhaps surprisingly, Breughal’s famous Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c.1558).

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

But where Breughal’s canvas emphasizes a quiet human tragedy close to home, Binks’s picture suggests a successful, collaborative enterprise, between a number of whalers, far into the Arctic circle. The allusion suggests a painter of some iconographic sophistication, and the long shadow of Netherlandish painting upon the Hull School. 1822, the year in which the canvas was painted, witnessed the launching of the HMS Comet at Deptford Docks, the Royal Navy’s first steam-ship, a new industrial technology that would ultimate make sail-ships like these Hull whalers compratively redundant.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum