Image: Excerpt from Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World (1841-1844) but Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell.
This year marks the 200 anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth (August 1, 1819). One hundred years ago, the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts received as a gift the Purrington-Russell Panorama of a “Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World.” At 1,275 long and 8 1/2 feet tall, it is huge.
Included in its images is the sinking of the Essex, the Nantucket whaling ship that might have inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. The crew was forced to cannibalism (we focus on dining, but not that kind).
“Russell’s intent in this sequence is to demonstrate both the intensity of whaling effort in the region (a place where he himself spent several months,) and its dangers. The stove boat scene is particularly violent and not unusual, these black whales of the Northwest Coast being renowned as bad-tempered, difficult to catch and prone to sinking once killed. The ship in the background shown boiling is carrying the house flag of Perry & Tillinghast of New Bedford although the ship itself is unidentified. It is most likely the ship Canton which took 1500 barrels of whale oil on the Northwest between April and September 1843. The ship in the foreground is bringing a full head of whalebone onboard. The baleen of the right whale fishery drove a significant part of the commodity market. Russell frequently returns to the themes shown in this section of the Panorama in his later art.”
For more on the artists, click here.
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