Whalers in the Arctic - John Ward (1834)
Oil on canvas, 47 x 65 cm
KINCM:2009.1124, Hull Maritime Museum

Ward’s tonally harmonious Whalers in the Arctic is one of the defining images of the Hull School. Ward was the only one of the School to have anything like a national reputation, exhibiting at the Royal Institution and Royal Academy, and he signs the work on the prow of the whaleboat in the right foreground. The canvas depicts a whale ship, possibly the Forfarshire, in multiple views, sailing, in all cases, out of the picture plane. There was no Hull whaler called the Forfarshire, which may suggest a possible Scottish, rather than an English, patron, particularly since Scottish whalers increasingly came to dominate the UK whaling trade. The view of the ship on the left is a lost port view; on the far right a starboard view. In the centre are a port view, parallel to the horizon, and a lost stern view, through which Ward emphasised his skills as a marine painter and suggested the increasingly long periods whalers spent cruising around Arctic bays, waiting for whales to appear. An angry polar bear, in the foreground, with a seal under its paw, as well as the presence of the gulls on the lower right, suggest that the whalers do not have the terrain to themselves. The distinctively upright ice formation right of centre on the horizon may again represent the Devil’s Thumb. In addition to alluding to this local landmark, Ward’s coastal profile of the ice also has a distinctly cartographic character. 1834, the year in which the canvas was finished, was anything but Arctic in the United Kingdom, which saw the hottest recorded annual temperatures on record.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum