James Clark Ross was one of the great polar explorers, a star of his day who used the Pole Star to discover the North Pole.
Ross sailed to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. This portrait marks his expedition in the Arctic in 1829-1833, after which he was dubbed the ‘Discoverer of the North Pole’, which he had reached by sledge with his uncle Sir John Ross.
To find his way, he used a magnetic dip-circle – the scientific instrument at the bottom right corner of the picture – and the Pole Star, gleaming in the dark sky. The harsh conditions of his travel are expressed by the inhospitable rocky terrain of the Canadian Arctic, the heavy bear skin draped over his shoulder, and the blue tinge of his hands. The portrait, however, expresses unfaltering resolve and courage.
Ross was not only a great explorer - he was also dashing. Jane, Lady Franklin (wife of another polar hero, John Franklin) who knew Ross well, called him 'the handsomest man in the Navy'.