Whaling Ships in the Arctic - Unknown artist (no date, c.1850?)
61.5 x 88 cm, oil on canvas
KINCM:2007.2262, Hull Maritime Museum

Ideas of the Arctic and geological sublime again dominate this unknown artist’s depiction of Whaling Ships in the Arctic. Like Ward’s Whale Ships in the Arctic, the artist largely rejects the trend of a low horizon, with minimal landscape features on it, so as to emphasise the clear portrait of a ship’s rigging and sails. Here, it is only the small ship on the far horizon that is depicted in such a way. The majority of the image, by contrast, is dominated by two huge landscape features jutting up into the sky which radically compress the scale of the two whalers in the mid- and foreground, both seen in a comparatively rare, dynamic bow view; the one in the centre with sails unfurled, and the one in the right foreground, with more rigging showing. The figures in the repoussoir foreground, meanwhile, are almost Lilliputian in scale, suggesting the radically disorienting and diminishing effect of Arctic geology.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th of October 1834

The crowd of right foreground figures dwarfed by a sublime spectacle in the background, might also owe something to Turner’s 1835 The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th of October 1834, especially given the way in which the rearing cliff on the right hand side suddenly collapses at a sharp diagonal, in a similar way to Turner’s bridge. Arctic fauna, the reason why the whalers ventured into the sublime circum-polar world, are almost incidental to the image, with a single whale fluke visible towards the left horizon, and a pair of polar bears on the ice towards the left of the canvas, apparently unthreatened by the nearby ships’ crews. The image may not have been painted with a whale ship owner or captain in mind.

help icon

Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum