SS Emma - Unknown artist (c.1855-1863)
oil on canvas, 64.5 x 95 cm
KINCM:2007.2282, Hull Maritime Museum

The Emma was built in Calcutta in 1809, and first registered in Hull in 1855, after a period sailing from London, and before sailing from Dundee in 1863. The unknown artist’s depiction of the ship is, in many ways, typical of Hull School paintings: in its use of repoussoir landscape effects; often pinky blue cloudscapes; and in its convincing  representations of named local ships in multiple views, with smaller whaleboats engaged, in the foreground, in a successful hunt, as well as in its less convincing depictions of icebergs. What makes the picture nearly unique is the figure in the immediate far left foreground: a rare depiction of an Inuit man watching the scene.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Symphony in White, No. 1: The Little White Girl

In locating him there, the canvas suggests the overlap between the viewer’s gaze and the Inuit man’s, and that the Inuit figure is contained within the broader European view of a world including the indigenous Arctic population. In spite of the absence of polar bears, the palette of the painting may be a response to the exhibition, at the Berners Street Gallery, in London, in 1862, of James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The Little White Girl, with its prominent polar bear rug and Arctic white tonality.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum