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Three, tall sailing ships, each with three masts and full sails, float in calm, arctic waters, surrounded by fragments of icebergs and ice floes amid a smattering of arctic animals, including polar bears, narwhal whales, seals, and birds, in this horizontal landscape painting. The horizon line comes about a quarter of the way up the composition so the sails and rigging of the ships are shown against the sky. The clouds have ivory tops and lavender-purple undersides, and they curve in a C-shaped bank around the clear blue sky at the top right corner. The three ships closest to us are spaced evenly across the composition, with the left-most the closest, and therefore largest. The ship to our right is set a bit farther back, and the center ship is the farthest away. A rowboat holding several men has pulled alongside the boat to our left, and more men haul massive slabs of whale blubber up the side of the ship. More men walk on an ice floe nearby. Close inspection reveals more rowboats around and beyond these ships, and several more ships fading into the hazy distance along the horizon. Jagged edged chunks of icebergs as tall as the ships float around them. Closer to us, a trio of seals sits on an ice floe near the lower center of the composition, and a mother stands nose to nose with her cub to our right. Two narwhal whales with long tusks growing from their noses break the surface of the water between us and the ships, as does a whale’s tail near the boat to our right. Two walruses with long tusks sit on a floe near the center ship. A couple dozen birds, many white with black wing tips, fly low over the surface of the water across the painting.

John Ward of Hull, The Northern Whale Fishery: The "Swan" and "Isabella", c. 1840, oil on canvas, The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, 2007.114.1

The Art of Looking

John Ward of Hull, The Northern Whale Fishery: The "Swan" and "Isabella"

  • Friday, January 21, 2022
  • 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Registration Required
  • Virtual Program

John Ward of Hull's The Northern Whale Fishery: The "Swan" and "Isabella" is the inspiration for this interactive conversation. Join us and share your observations, interpretations, questions, and ideas, and build on your own first impressions to broaden your understanding of this work of art. This session lasts one hour and is completely interactive.

National Gallery educators will facilitate the conversation to create an environment for shared learning. These conversations will encourage you to engage deeply with art, with others, and with the world around you as you hone skills in visual literacy and perspective-taking.

This program is free and open to the public and is designed for anyone interested in talking about art. No art or art history background is required. Ages 18 and over.

Due to the interactive nature of this program, sessions are not recorded.

Live Captions

Live captions (CART) are available in some breakout rooms for this program. Please contact [email protected] to request access or for more information.