After Icebergs with a Painter: An Inspiration for Bradford’s 1869 Voyage

In Arctic Regions, William Bradford chronicled his 1869 voyage to the Arctic along Greenland’s coast, & cites two books that initially inspired his exploration for art’s sake: Lord Dufferin’s Letters from High Places and Elisha Kent Kane’s Arctic Explorations in the years of 1853, ’54, ’55.

At least one other book would have caught Bradford’s attention and imagination: Rev. L. L. Noble’s After Icebergs with a Painter, published in 1861. Noble described his 1859 voyage searching for icebergs–for art’s sake–which he made with the great American landscape artist, Frederic E. Church.[1] As Richard Kugler stated[2]: “Although Bradford makes no mention of it, it is likely that he was…familiar with Louis Legrand Noble’s After Icebergs with a Painter…, an account of an 1859 trip made with Church, who provided illustrations for the volume. A copy of the book was also on board the schooner Benjamin S Wright during Bradford’s 1864 voyage to Labrador…”[3]

Interestingly throughout After Icebergs…, Noble refers to Church only as “C_____”; but, as Kugler said: “many of its readers would have instantly recognized him as Frederic E. Church, whose enormous painting The Icebergs caused a sensation when put on view in New York in 1861.”[4] It would seem likely, then, “that Bradford was inspired by…The Icebergs, which…was hailed by the New York Tribune as the ‘most splendid work of art that has yet been produced in this country.’ Bradford would surely have seen The Icebergs in late 1861 in New York, or at least in 1862, when it was exhibited in Boston.[5]

We also know that Church was a friend of Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes, who accompanied Bradford on the 1869 voyage. Church had, in fact, given artistic counsel to Dr. Hayes, as Hayes desired to make sketches of scientific interest. In return, Hayes gave Church one of his sketches: “a scene that would become the basis for Church’s second Arctic painting, The Aurora Borealis (Smithsonian Museum of American Art).”[6]

In Bradford’s scrapbook of news clippings, several articles refer to Church, often comparing his artistic work with Bradford’s.

 “ARCTIC PICTURES,” written in London: kudos to Bradford, Church, Bierstadt…to personally observe natural phenomenons..”the sincerety and hardihood” of which “appeal to English feeling.”

Arctic Pictures (1)

Yet in another of Bradford’s scrapbooks–a very special piece of evidence of Bradford’s and Church’s connection with each other is Church’s signature: “Yours sincerely Frederic E Church.”[7] (#A-288)

Frederick_E_Church (1)

With the various connections between Bradford and Church, it seems fitting to share Church’s 1859 voyage with followers of Bradford and the Arctic Visions exhibit. As we are fortunate to have Bradford’s and Hayes’s accounts of their 1869 voyage, we are also fortunate to have Noble’s account of Church’s 1859 voyage in his After Icebergs with a Painter: again, for art’s sake.

So, to share with everyone the passion of Church’s voyage–which also inspired Bradford’s–William Bradford @WmBradford_NBWM will soon “tweet” to his followers passages of After Icebergs…! Please stay with us as the voyage continues….


[1] Frederic E. Church (May 4, 1826 – April 7, 1900) was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters,, by Kevin J. Avery. 

[2] Richard C. Kugler: William Bradford–Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas,New Bedford, Mass.: New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2003, p84 n2

[3] D. A. Wasson, ‘Ice and Esquimaux,’ in Atlantic Monthly 7 (January 1865), 46.

[4] Kugler, William Bradford, Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, p. 17

[5] Ibid, p84n2

[6] Ibid, p. 26

[7] The last four words of Church’s note to Bradford can be seen: “…at the Studio Building,” which may have referenced a studio building in NYC where both Bradford and Church had presences.

Joanne Seymour is a New Bedford Whaling Museum volunteer in its Research Library. As such, she has contributed to the Arctic Visions exhibit: in part, her contributions have included transcription of entries in the three Bradford scrapbooks, and “tweeting” as William Bradford from Arctic Regions and as Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes from his Land of Desolation.