Ten Whalers Icebound in the Arctic - Unknown Artist (c.1860)
45 x 70 cm
KINCM:2007.2243, Hull Maritime Museum

Following the loss of some eleven Hull whale ships between 1845 and 1860, the artist depicts ten three-masted whaling ships trapped in the ice, with characteristic black hulls and central stripes, sails furled and red pennants on the main mast tops. Seven are bow views, with three stern views, and, in one case, the artist has painted the word ‘Hull’ on the transom, to emphasise the poignant local relevance of the scene. The ships’ collective crews have pulled onto the ice their whaleboats and luggage, and are lighting camp fires and erecting tents between the boats for shelter. Sometimes crew were forced to abandon the ships for short periods, at other times they had to remain on ice for increasing lengths of time. The artist uses the characteristically low horizon line of marine painting to good effect, to emphasise his ability to depict rigging precisely, and to suggest a bleakly unending vista of flat ice behind the boats, with the  exception of a prominent ice berg towards the right hand side, which again may suggest the Devil’s Thumb landmark. The artist’s use of a limited, Rembrandtian palette of cream and brown provides an overall harmony of colour, increasingly important in the middle decades of the nineteneth century, when Rembrandt was ever more fashionable. The large numbers of men on the ice signals sociability in spite of everything, although it is clear, from period accounts, that a crucial factor for long-term survival is missing from the scene: a camp of Inuit figures able to flourish, and to help the whalers survive, for longer periods in the difficult terrain.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum