Whaler Diana - James H. Wheldon (after 1857)
82 x 112 cm, oil on canvas
KINCM:2007.2317, Hull Maritime Museum

We can securely date this picture to after 1857 since, in that year, the Diana was fitted with an auxiliary steam engine, again seen here between the Main and Mizzen masts, designed to get the ship to and from the Arctic faster, to make it less reliant on the weather, and to enable it to push through thicker ice floes. Even though the engine is not here in use, Wheldon may have been prompted to paint the picture in 1857, to celebrate its refitting. He depicts the ship in three views: moored, stably, in a port profile view, parallel to the horizon; in full sail, centrally, surrounded by its whaleboats; and sailing in lost stern views, diagonally towards the horizon on either side of the main ship. Given the traces of purple-pink in the sky, which might suggest dusk and the end of the day’s successful hunting, seen in the foreground, where a whale has been driven into a bay, the viewer may be looking west, and the foreshortened Dianas sailing south west, thus towards home, perhaps at the end of a profitable voyage. Wheldon was particularly interested in the pointed, perpendicular forms of icebergs, a comparison to Gothic cathedrals made by almost all visitors to the Arctic in a period witnessing a major Gothic revival in its architecture, and fashionable, in the period immediately preceding Wheldon’s canvas, because of the publication, in 1853, of John Ruskin’s seminal essay, ‘The Nature of Gothic’.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum