Whaling Barques and Whale Boats in the Arctic - Anon (c.1888)
oil on canvas, 46 x 66.5 cm
KINCM:2007.2248, Hull Maritime Museum

This naïve work, possibly from the late 1880s, depicts five Arctic whalers, the majority in straightforward port (right hand side) and starboard (left hand side) views,  with a single ship in lost stern/port view, heading towards the horizon on the far left. The centrifugal arrangement of the ships suggests a desire to leave the Arctic, with the ships on the left heading towards the left edge of the picture, and those on the right pushing toward the right. The foreground is dominated by six whale boats, two with flags raised to signal a catch, and with two crews hauling their boats towards the water on the left hand side to aid with the dragging of the quarry back towards the boat, one hauling the boat onto the ice, the other hauling the boat across it. The unusual, curved whale flukes extend far down the whale’s body, suggesting an artist who had seen decorative images of dolphins rather than possessing any real understanding of whale anatomy. The distinct echoing of the two whale flukes recalls early exploratory maps, and makes the picture appear significantly older and more primitive than its date might suggest. There is a considerable emphasis on the work of the crews, all lined up in orderly, equidistant profile views, suggesting less an attention to ordinary men, in the wake of the recent 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act, and instead a kind of naval discipline; am imperial order further emphasised by the clearly profiled, distinctively flat, cartographic character of the ice-floes.

Figure 1

Fig. 1: Mount Erebus and Beaufort Island

The green water represents our last nod to the Van de Veldes, whilst the distinct, rising, dual profile of the rocky background recalls James Ross’s earlier illustration of Mount Erebus and Beaufort Island from his A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions (1847), the again Antarctic, rather than Arctic, voyage that similarly inspired Turner’s Hurrah! For the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum