'Erebus' and 'Terror' in the Antarctic

(Updated, July 2014) One of a pair with BHC1215, both of which have received identifications in terms of subject, as showing the 'Erebus' and 'Terror' in the Antarctic during James Clark Ross's expedition. However, there is a so far unresolved problem with this in that the ships shown do not close resemble 'Erebus' and 'Terror', and also differ from those in the other painting, which are similarly unlike Ross's.
Thematically, however, in the present example, they represent the only human presence in an environment of rough peaks, glaciers, mountains and jagged rocks. They are portrayed tossed in the waves as they navigate a passage though a sound. The ship to the right is signalling with flags to the other. In the foreground is Carmichael's interpretation of the wildlife to be found in the Antarctic. A whale sends up a jet of water in the foreground to the left.

Carmichael was a prolific artist who produced drawings and engravings for the British newspapers of the time. However, as he did not accompany Ross the painting is not an eyewitness account. It may be a response to the publication of Ross's book about the expedition but the composition is based on a drawing which Carmichael appears to have done earlier, representing one of Captain William Edward Parry's two-ship expeditions in search of the North-West Passage in the 1820s. However, again, the ships shown here are not accurate representations of Parry's. The related sketch was acquired by the National Maritime Museum in 2001.

Carmichael presumably did not develop the drawing into an Arctic painting but instead used it for this Antarctic subject. The landscape seems fantastical and the scene has been romanticized, since although the environment is barren it is not threatening to the ships and men, and a golden glow appears over the mountain in the distance to the left. The presence of the birds and fish implies that nature has been interpreted as benign to man and not hostile. The painting has been signed by the artist and is dated 1847.

Object Details

ID: BHC1215
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Polar Worlds Gallery
Creator: Carmichael, John Wilson
Places: Antarctica
Events: Antarctic Exploration: James Clark Ross's voyage, 1838-1843
Vessels: Erebus (1826)
Date made: 1847
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund
Measurements: Painting: 1232 x 1842 mm; Frame: 1422 x 2033 x 120 mm;Overall weight: 50 kg;

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