In news disclosed this week, history came to life and reached out to touch Frederic Edwin Church’s masterful painting The Icebergs (1861) in the DMA’s collection. The recent discovery of one of two ships submerged in the arctic waters off the Canadian coast also brings to closure one of the great mysteries of expeditionary navigation. In the trip led by Captain Sir John Franklin, two ships sailed in 1845 in a failed attempt to map and navigate the Northwest Passage. The captain and his men perished in the cold conditions. In 1863 Frederic Church would tap into this tragic tale in an attempt to make The Icebergs more appealing to British collectors. Before shipping the work to England, he added the broken mast of a ship in the foreground as a direct allusion to the doomed expedition. The opening for the painting’s exhibition in London was attended by many Arctic explorers, as well as the widowed Lady Franklin.
Learn more about the discovery of one of Franklin’s ships, including video of the discovered ship, on BBC.com.
Sue Canterbury is The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the DMA.