Whaling Barque 'Diana' in the Arctic - Unknown Artist (c.1857)
oil on canvas, 46.5 x 77 cm
KINCM:2007.2250, Hull Maritime Museum

The Diana remains, perhaps, the most famous, and certainly the most depicted, Hull whaler. The first Diana was built in 1784, and sailed from the city from 1813-1817, when it was lost whilst trading. The second, and more famous Diana, was built in Bremen in 1840, and first registered in Hull in 1856. This comparatively straightforward starboard profile portrait of the steam and sail barque must date from after 1857, when the vessel acquired its auxiliary engine. Indeed, given the prominent place given to the steam emerging from the engine between the ship’s main and mizzen masts, it was perhaps painted to celebrate the vessel’s new capacity for speed and to push through the Arctic floe; especially since the artist depicts just that. The arrival of steam vessels in the Arctic was commemorated by Hull whaler William Barron, in his Old Whaling Days of 1895, who commented on the “easy time” sailors had “on board a steamer, compared with those in a sailing vessel”, but who also documented the “small steam power” of the Diana compared to American vessels.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Ecce Ancilla Domini

The remarkably sparse, nearly monochrome Artic landscape, enlivened by two seals lying upon the ice in the right foreground, and three gulls descending down centre right, is, perhaps, characteristic of the new minimalist ‘White painting’ popular in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, following the exhibition at the Royal Academy, of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini of 1850. Certainly, there is not a whale in sight, and compared to many Hull School images, the Arctic does not look like a profitable environment for a commercial hunting vessel.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum