In the waters off the southeast coast of Baffin Island, an immense iceberg towers a hundred metres above the illustrious British ship HMS Terror. This dramatic watercolour, painted in 1836 by Admiral Sir George Back, one of the greatest British explorers of the Arctic, was recently acquired at auction in Britain by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
“This painting has great significance in Canadian history,” explains Dr. David Morrison, Director of Archaeology and History at the Museum. “Admiral Sir George Back was up there in the first tier of British Arctic explorers who helped lay the foundation for Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, and he was also a skilled artist. The painting’s subject, the HMS Terror, played a crucial role in Arctic exploration. In fact, it was part of the doomed 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin, during which he and all 128 of his crewmen perished.”
Previously unknown to historians, the painting was sold last year at auction in London by descendants of Admiral Sir George. The funds for the painting, which measures approximately 14.5 by 22.5 centimetres, came from the National Collection Fund. The Fund is supported by donors who help the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum acquire important artifacts of Canada’s cultural and military history that might otherwise be purchased by private collectors or museums outside Canada.