Whaleships in the Arctic - Unknown artist (after John Ward) (c.1850)
oil on canvas, 38 x 55 cm

If the group of pictures after John Ward are correctly dated around 1850, it suggests that the painter’s work had become popular again in the wake of his death in 1849, perhaps following an exhibition of his work in Hull, or else revealing a subsequent artist who saw a canny opportunity to capitalise on Ward’s demise, following his retirement in 1843. The canvas, however, also recalls two further sources, especially in the near monochrome palette and the spiky forms of the enormous, ship-dwarfing icebergs.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: A Passage through the Ice

Figure 2

Fig. 2: On the Way to the Weddell Sea

These were the engravings A Passage through the Ice from John Ross’s A Voyage of Discovery of 1819, and On the Way to the Weddell Sea from James Weddell’s A Voyage Towards the South Pole of 1825. Ross was closely associated with the Hull fishery, as he had been rescued by a Hull whaler, the Isabella, in 1833 from Lancaster Sound, having been missing, presumed dead, in the Arctic, for four winters. The picture itself depicts two whale ships, in starboard and port views, in the distance and mid-ground respectively, with a pair of whaleboats in the mid-foreground, and a pair of whalers, with guns, hunting on the ice in the immediate foreground. The picture is unusual in emphasising the icebergs as much as the ships, and bucks the convention of a low horizon, and minimal landscape features upon it, to emphasise the portrait of the named ship. In addition, our artist is less concerned with the depictions of specific Arctic fauna. Here, the emphasis is upon the sublime Romantic landscape. 

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum