An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made more than a third of a million images both public domain and searchable online. This is one of my current favourites:

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford and painted in 1871.

An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871
An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871

If you look really closely you can see it is a steam assisted ship.

Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.
Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.

I really like the colours in the sea ice in the foreground. It's hard not to see that when you are in the sea ice.

Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.
Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.

And let's not forget the ice bear in the foreground.

 

Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.
Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.

The caption on the Met page makes clear they were hunting this bear:

In 1861 the marine painter William Bradford made the first of his eight expeditions to the Arctic. This painting, based on photographs and sketches produced during his final trip, in 1869, shows the artist’s steamer, Panther, plying its way through the summer ice along the northern coast of Greenland. Panther was one of numerous vessels engaged in the search for the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. According to Bradford’s journal, the ship’s crew had decided to hunt the polar bear seen in the foreground, “anxious to possess so fine a skin,” but the bear made a parting glance over its shoulder before heading for the water, managing to escape its pursuers.

But it is art for sure.

There is no way you could get an iceberg with this sort of freeboard close to the shore...

Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.
Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.

And I love the detail of a wrecked ship mast on the left.

Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.
Detail from: An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay by William Bradford, 1871.

There is a long history of romantic artists balancing the struggle of man against the icy wastes. My all time favourite in that category is Landseer's Man Proposes, God Disposes.

Man Proposes, God Disposes by Edward Landseer 1864.
Man Proposes, God Disposes by Edward Landseer 1864.

Thanks Metropolitan museum for putting it online.

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