After the first month of my three-month Caird Short-term Research Fellowship, I would like to tell you about my research at the National Maritime Museum so far. These fellowships are fantastic opportunities for researchers, especially a PhD student like me doing research on nineteenth-century visual representations of the Arctic. I am looking at portraits of explorers and images from British expeditions to the Arctic, of which the museum has a great collection – hundreds of oil paintings, watercolours, photographs, prints and drawings (plus a lot of literature in the Caird Library). I thought I would tell you about one portrait I am researching: ‘Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), c. 1851′.
‘Qalasirssuaq (Erasmus Augustine Kallihirua), c. 1851′ (BHC2813)
This ‘double’ portrait of a male Greenland Inuit – the sitter is shown both from the front and side – raises several interesting questions about Western representations of indigenous Arctic peoples. What does this image say about Qalasirssuaq’s social position in England? How does it relate to British perceptions of indigenous Arctic peoples at the time? At first glance the painting appears to be a flattering portrait of a distinguished individual, seemingly depicted beside a mirror. The sitter, with his shiny and well-combed hair, suit and black scarf tied according to contemporary fashion, meets the viewer’s gaze calmly and confidently. Yet, on closer examination, we realise that the profile image might not be a simple mirror reflection of Qalasirssuaq. Is it linked instead to nineteenth-century European ethnographic studies of non-Western peoples? While I am interested in picking apart the opposing ideas this portrait presents us with (subject/object, Christian/pagan, civilised/savage), I am also hoping to find out more about Qalasirssuaq’s life, experiences and perceptions of British culture, both in England and onboard ship in the 1850-51 expedition searching for Franklin under Captain Horatio Austin. Hopefully I’ll write another blog entry at the end of my research to let you know how I get on!
For more information on the NMM’s fellowships see nmm.ac.uk/fellowships
Listen to a selection of recordings from our popular programme of talks ‘Gallery Favourites’ on our website. Our gallery assistants tell some of the stories behind the objects from the Museum’s collections that intrigue them.
Did Nelson say “Kiss me” or “Kismet”? How old is the Suez Canal? How did Britain’s love of tea lead to the Opium Wars with China? How did John Harrison solve the problem of longitude?
Find out the answers to these questions and more by listening to ‘Gallery Favourites’ online now.
Have you enjoyed our online ‘Gallery Favourites’ talks and would you like to know more? ‘Gallery Favourites (talks and tours)’ take place daily. Talks and tours are free and there’s no need to book. Visit ‘Gallery Favourites (talks and tours)’ to arrange your visit.
Read reviews of our summer show Turmoil and Tranquillity online. Simply visit the reviews section on our website, click on the links and peruse the latest reviews of the exhibition from The Times, Telegraph, Financial Times and Guardian.
Why not read what the papers are saying and plan your visit?
Turmoil and Tranquillity is showing in the Queen’s House, 20 June 2008-11 January 2009*
*Please note: This gallery may occasionally be closed. Please see Latest visitor information for all details of closures.
‘HMS Assistance in the ice (1850-51)’ by Thomas Sewell Robins (BHC4239)
This July the Museum held a conference with the Royal Society and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge on the theme of ‘Scientific Voyaging: Histories and Comparisons’. Apart from the first evening, with a keynote address by Joyce Chaplain of Harvard University on Science, Circumnavigation and Modernity in the NMM lecture theatre and a reception in the Queen’s House, the conference was held at the Royal Society in central London.
Largely drawing on events of the 18th and 19th centuries, the papers mainly looked at the relationship between maritime exploration and scientific inquiry. Speakers had been encouraged to move beyond the well-known accounts of Captain Cook, Alexander von Humboldt or the voyage of HMS Challenger, and so they turned to topics such as the importance of visual imagery in communicating knowledge over a distance and the relationship between field workers and the individuals, societies and governments who collated their efforts. The list of speakers’ institutional affiliations was impressively international, and allowed for discussions that drew on knowledge of British, South American, North American, Australian, French and Spanish contexts.
‘HMS Erebus and Terror with native craft in New Zealand (August 1841)’ by John Wilson Carmichael (BHC1214)
The thanks of the Museum and the Royal Society must go to Simon Schaffer of the University of Cambridge for steering the intellectual content of the conference and for gathering together a diverse and stimulating range of speakers. It seemed particularly appropriate to hear these papers in the surroundings of an institution that was the impetus for many past scientific voyages. It also gave participants the chance to see the Society’s temporary exhibition, ‘Is seeing believing? The art of science’, which linked very well to the conference’s focus on scientific imagery.
Dip circle, relic of Sir John Franklin’s last expedition 1845-6 (AAA2223)
You can get more information on the NMM’s conference and seminar programme, at: www.nmm.ac.uk/conferences.
Charles I (1600-1649) in the style of Sir Anthony van Dyck (BHC2607)
One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of curatorial work is visiting other collections. I am currently working with two colleagues here at the Museum on a major exhibition for 2010, which will mark the 350th anniversary of the Restoration of King Charles II. This involves tracking down all sorts of objects from around Britain and Europe, and has meant numerous visits to museums and galleries, as well as to many private collections. The latter can be the most exciting, as you’re never quite sure in advance what you might find – and many stately homes have an impressive amount of 17th-century material, from paintings and furniture to the more intimate objects of daily life that will really help to bring our story to life.
Everywhere we go, we are met by curators and collections managers who are eager to help, and Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire is no exception. Long a seat of the Dukes of Portland, it has a fantastic little gallery displaying material associated with a former owner, William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle. Cavendish was tutor to Charles II when he was Prince of Wales, and was thus closely linked to Charles’s father, the arrogant and ill-fated Charles I, who was beheaded by Parliament in 1649. Among their exhibits are the silver goblet from which Charles took his final communion and the pearl earring taken from his decapitated head. Both would be ideal for our exhibition – but the next step will be obtaining permissions for loan.