S.S. 'William Lee' or 'William Lee' in the Arctic - Unknown Artist, (after John Ward) (c.1832?)
oil on canvas, 66.5 x 101.5 cm
KINCM:2007.2281, Hull Maritime Museum

The picture, after Ward, again shows the vessel in five views: in port profile (centre); in starboard profile sailing out of the frame (far left and far right);  sailing towards the horizon, in stern view (off right), and sailing towards the viewer, in again rare bow view (off left). In addition, the artist follows Ward in depicting a number of whaleboats. In the foreground, viewers again find one, inscribed with the name of Richard Hill, dragging a dead whale back to the ship for flensing, where the crew will have to wait their turn, since flensing is already underway on the port side of the vessel. On the left of the canvas, a pair of whale boats is hunting another right whale, whose watery, rather than bloody, spout, which is not present in the Ward, suggests that the first harpoon has yet to be landed, a surprisingly rare motif in Hull School pictures. Our artist has, however, failed to include a pair of seals which have caught the attention of the again so-far-unmolested polar bear on the right in Ward’s original, and which make sense of his position at the edge of the ice. The artist’s understanding of ice is also less convincing than Ward’s, both in colour, here dominantly stony  grey, rather than creamy white, and in form, here weirdly pinnacled, making more literal than usual common period comparisons of icebergs to Gothic cathedrals. The sheer weirdness, and suggestively skeletal form, of this Arctic scene, as a result, perhaps recalls Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s popular 1798 poem about Antarctic exploration, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, with its skeleton figure of Death.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum