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A Fleet of Whalers

Photo credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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Unlike de Vries’ portrayal of whaling, van Salm’s expedition takes place far away from any discernible land, exemplifying a different type of whaling practice known as pelagic whaling or sea fishing. In place of a coast, a broad sky dominates the picture, filled with impalpable patches of seemingly static clouds. The sea, which comprises only about a third of the composition, gently ripples beneath several exquisitely rendered sailing vessels. On the left, ice has formed into thick sheets which float gracelessly in the sea. The painting’s overall blanched appearance may allude to the reflective relationship between the ice and the sky commonly referred to by whalers as ‘ice-blink’. ‘Where the ice is fixed upon the sea,’ wrote the Dutch voyager Friedrich Martens in 1671, ‘you see a snow-white brightness in the skies, as if the sun shined; for the snow is reflected by the air, just as a fire by night is…’ Two colossal whales surface above the crisply delineated waves. The whale on the left is harpooned by a boat crew of Dutch whalers, while in the foreground on the right another expels a rigid jet of water into the air. Van Salm’s aptitude for penschilderij, the technique of drawing onto a prepared oil ground using a reed pen and indian ink, has attracted comparisons with Willem van de Velde the Elder, who was most likely the inventor of this particular technique.

National Maritime Museum





oil on panel


H 27.5 x W 39.5 cm

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National Maritime Museum

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