Whaler and Fishing Vessels near the Coast of Labrador

William Bradford (American, 1823-1892)

Currently on View in K213
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In Bradford's day, icebergs were seen as symbols of the perpetual process of formation and destruction, and the icy equivalents of mountains.

The whaler and fishing vessels add a human presence that tempers the awesome scale of nature.

William Bradford: Marine Painter of Northern Climes

Born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, William Bradford was the son of Quaker parents. Bradford’s primary job was as a clerk in his father’s dry goods store, yet, in his spare time, he would sketch. Bradford launched his professional career in the early 1850s by selling portraits of ships for twenty-five dollars. When he opened his studio in 1854, a Dutch painter, Albert Van Beest, became his teacher and collaborator. Bradford painted seascapes and whaling pictures of local scenes. In 1861, he began a series of trips to Nova Scotia, Labrador, and Greenland, during which time he painted and photographed the area. In the 1870s, Bradford set up a studio in San Francisco and traveled throughout the West painting such scenes as Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The numerous photographs that he took were often used as a basis for his paintings, but were never copied. Bradford became famous for his seascapes, particularly those that focused on the Arctic region.

With Frederic Edwin Church, Bradford was responsible for popularizing the Arctic in American art. Both painters first visited the region in separate voyages during the summer of 1861, and Bradford returned every year through 1869, making sketches and photographs of motifs he used throughout his career. Aroused by explorers’ accounts, the American fascination with the Arctic was part of the era’s broader Romantic appetite for exotic places and adventure. Typical of the Hudson River School painters’ inclination to interpret nature in a spiritual sense, icebergs were seen as symbols of the perpetual process of formation and destruction, their protean substance molded into nearly supernatural shapes. In this sense, they were the icy equivalents of mountains, which are synonymous with physical and spiritual grandeur. Whaler and Fishing Vessels near the Coast of Labrador shows man existing on equal terms with nature.

Bradford, William and Richard Kugler. William Bradford: Sailing Ships and Arctic Seas. New Bedford, Connecticut: New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2003.

Gift to the museum by Delavan Smith

Object Information

William Bradford (American, 1823-1892)
creation date
about 1880
oil on canvas
18 x 30 in.
28-3/8 x 40-1/4 x 3-3/8 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Gift of Delavan Smith
Public Domain
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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