Hull Whaler 'Harmony' (after William John Huggins) - James H. Wheldon (date unknown, mid to late 1850s?)
oil on canvas, 94 x 124 cm
KINCM:2007.1441, Hull Maritime Museum

Three whalers were named Harmony who sailed out of Hull. The first was built across the Atlantic, and registered at Hull in 1803, and, having been captured by the Dutch, and liberated by her six-man prize crew, returned to the port and a heroes’ welcome later that year. The second was built at Lancaster in 1798, and first registered in Hull in 1819, before being lost, on her only voyage to the Artic fishery, in July 1821. The third Harmony was built in Whitby in 1790, and first registered in Hull in 1829, before sailing to Sydney in 1851. Wheldon’s picture was derived from the earlier depiction of William John Huggins, marine painter to King William IV, and an artist with key imperial experience in the East India Company. The close relationship between Huggins and Wheldon’s pictures suggests the way in which the Hull School’s paintings were not only similar to each another stylistically and thematically, but frequently employed directly repetitive elements from other, more metropolitan artists as well, such as the man clubbing the seal in the centre left foreground, the pair of narwhals swimming in the water, and the adjacent walrus, which are all found in a number of canvases by Huggins, Wheldon, and others. Wheldon’s is not a simple repetition, however. He adds, to the right foreground, an original, if not entirely convincing, scene of whalers attacking a polar bear. He also adds a third boat on the right horizon, and makes the weather more cheerful, adding more of a blue sky.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: William John Huggins, Whaling Barque Harmony of Hull

Like many of his peers, Wheldon was interested in the water cycle, in the relationship between sea water, ice floes and bergs, and clouds; a parallel suggested by the similar appearance of the iceberg and cumulonimbus in the left background.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum