Conducting research at the NMM: Caird Short-term Research Fellowship

After the first month of my three-month Caird Short-term Research Fellowship, I would like to tell you about my research at the National Maritime Museum so far. These fellowships are fantastic opportunities for researchers, especially a PhD student like me doing research on nineteenth-century visual representations of the Arctic. I am looking at portraits of explorers and images from British expeditions to the Arctic, of which the museum has a great collection - hundreds of oil paintings, watercolours, photographs, prints and drawings (plus a lot of literature in the Caird Library). I thought I would tell you about one portrait I am researching: 'Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), c. 1851'.
Bhc2813.jpg
'Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), c. 1851' (BHC2813)
This 'double' portrait of a male Greenland Inuit - the sitter is shown both from the front and side - raises several interesting questions about Western representations of indigenous Arctic peoples. What does this image say about Qalasirssuaq's social position in England? How does it relate to British perceptions of indigenous Arctic peoples at the time? At first glance the painting appears to be a flattering portrait of a distinguished individual, seemingly depicted beside a mirror. The sitter, with his shiny and well-combed hair, suit and black scarf tied according to contemporary fashion, meets the viewer's gaze calmly and confidently. Yet, on closer examination, we realise that the profile image might not be a simple mirror reflection of Qalasirssuaq. Is it linked instead to nineteenth-century European ethnographic studies of non-Western peoples? While I am interested in picking apart the opposing ideas this portrait presents us with (subject/object, Christian/pagan, civilised/savage), I am also hoping to find out more about Qalasirssuaq's life, experiences and perceptions of British culture, both in England and onboard ship in the 1850-51 expedition searching for Franklin under Captain Horatio Austin. Hopefully I'll write another blog entry at the end of my research to let you know how I get on!
For more information on the NMM's fellowships see nmm.ac.uk/fellowships