|European Paintings — Robert Dodd - The Greenland Whale Fishery|
|Robert Dodd - The Greenland Whale Fishery
Signed with initials and dated l.c. (on bow of the rowing boat): R.D 1783
Provenance: Richard Green, London
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Canvas size: 26” x 36”
The Greenland whale fishery began as a bay fishery along the coast of Spitsbergen in 1611. After about 1650, whalemen moved west of Spitsbergen in search of new bowhead stocks and the term “Greenland whale fishery” came to refer to pelagic whaling in the waters between Spitsbergen and Greenland. Whaleships followed the northward summer migration of the bowhead, sailing first to Spitsbergen, then drifting west to the edge of the East Greenland ice pack. The season generally laster four to five months.
The identity of the two British whaleships in Robert Dodd’s portrayal is unknown, but it is almost certain they were London-based vessels operating out of the Thames from where the largest British whaling fleet emanated until well into the nineteenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century, the shortage of Arctic whales was already sending the whaling fleets as far away as Greenland. In fact, the Howland Great Wet Dock at Rotherhithe - built at the end of the seventeenth century - was, in 1763, renamed the Greenland Dock when it was purchased by John and William Wells.
In 1783, the year in which Dodd completed this painting, the British whaling industry saw a marked revival after a wartime depression. The primary cause for the slump was the government commandeering of a large number of whaleships for use as transporters. The trade soon began to revive after the peace settlement with both France and the infant United States. Likewise, an increase in the government whaling bounty to forty shillings per ton was an added incentive to put more vessels into this extremely lucrative trade. In fact, profits were such that it seems entirely plausible that this painting was commissioned simply to mark the general return to prosperity rather than any specific whaling expedition.
As if further to promote this latter theory, this painting was twice engraved and published, on the first occasion by John & Josiah Boydell of Cheapside in 1789 and again in 1795, by Fran. Ambrosi and Antoine Suntach. Two separate printings would suggest a strong popular demand amongst whaling ship owners, masters and crews, for whom a generic image would perhaps be rather more attractive than one of vessels belonging to their rivals. The engravings are illustrated in Kendall Whaling Museum Prints by M.V. and Dorothy Brewington, published in Sharon, Massachusetts, 1969, no. 151 and no. 189.
Robert Dodd undertook meticulous research for his paintings and was very accurate in his depiction of the details of ships and conditions at sea. From about 1783 Robert engraved over a hundred of his paintings in aquatint and as a result his work gained a wide audience. In particular, he was one of the principal recorders of naval actions in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary Wars and published many of his renderings of these battles. Dodd exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1780, and from 1782 to 1809 he exhibited at the Royal Academy. Dodd’s masterpiece is the large (76” x 134”) painting of Lord Howe’s famous victory over the French, The end of the battle of the First of June.