Tag Archives: polar bear

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.

1 Comment

Last week the Royal Society (UK), and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a good PDF booklet called Climate Change: Evidence & Causes.

In the words of the US NAS

"Climate Change makes clear what is well-established and where understanding is still developing. It echoes and builds upon the long history of climate-related work from both national academies."

You can read the background at the Royal Society site, and Carbon Brief provides a synopsis so good I can't add much.

But I will talk about the cover. Here is a screen grab.

The Cover of the Royal Society Climate Change report
The Cover of the Royal Society Climate Change report

I think it's beautiful. I love the way the golden light reflects on the young sea ice. In fact I think it is so beautiful that we used it on the cover of a book I partially wrote and edited for my employer in 2011.

The Cover of the Open University Frozen Planet Coursebook
The Cover of the Open University Frozen Planet Coursebook

The original is an iStock image called "Polar bear on ice close to golden glittering water". Now that is not what I would call it - but then I wasn't fortunate enough to be in a helicopter at that time of the year, and so I don't get to choose.

The Royal Society / NAS had cropped the bear from the image so they used the segment in the yellow rectangle below...

S175 Cover with Crop
The cover of the S175 Book with the crop

They actually rotated and stretched it slightly to completely miss the bear - although there are still clearly bear footprints in the version they use.

I am sure they did that because they did not want to get into the whole "poor polar bear looking over the melting ice" conversation. All the way back in 2012 Carbon Brief included "sad polar bear on melting ice" as one of their Nine climate change pictures I really don't need to see again.

So why did I use it? To me the polar bear is in its natural habitat. The bear is wandering over decaying sea ice and refrozen melt water. Our book is filled with the science of how and why the ice grows and melts, and what adaptations and strategies the animals use to survive, plus lots of other science. The polar bear's Latin name is ursus maritimus - which in English is "sea bear": open water and ice are part of their habitat.

That nuance is not possible in a short but excellent PDF report on climate change, so

I imagine they chose the beautiful light.

In hindsight I think I would have used another image. But only because if you go to the trouble of writing a book, then you would want to keep it special.

The problem I had at the time was that I was not very good at choosing any of my own images.

-

The title of the post points to the book Setting Free the Bears by John Irving. It's a book I like and it is about two young people releasing the animals from Vienna zoo after the Second World War.