Whalers Nipped in the Ice - Unknown Artist (c.1850)
oil on canvas, 46 x 67 cm
KINCM:2007.2255, Hull Maritime Museum

The 1850s witnessed a significant change in Hull School painting. This was signalled by the sombre, new, often nearly monochrome palette adopted by a number of painters. Like Turner’s final Whaler, it was also indicated by a new thematics of whalers fighting their way through the ice, and becoming trapped within it. In addition, 1850’s canvases frequently feature dark environments in which it is difficult to tell whether it is day or night; a single night in an Arctic summer voyage or the endless night of a long Arctic winter, the result of how increasingly often whalers became nipped in the ice over winter as they travelled further north in the search of fewer whales. Indeed, the period after 1845, the year of Turner’s first pair of Whalers, was increasingly bleak for the Hull fishery, with the loss of some 15 vessels over the next 20 years. In the picture, the whalers have temporarily abandoned their ice bound ships, dragging out onto the ice the whale boats, flensing equipment, and ship’s stores, to prevent them being crushed. The crew of the ship on the left are trying to pull it upright. In the right foreground, a cowardly whaler is attempting to shoot a surprisingly docile polar bear in the back, perhaps in search of its flesh as much as its skin, the latter for immediate warmth as much as for potential profit back home. It is clear the artist had little sense of how frightened Hull whalers were of bears, in reality, and how more often they had to be hunted with the help of a pack of Inuit dogs.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum