Bone and Oil: The long nineteenth-century visual and material cultures of whaling

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: History of Art


Recommended as a resource in 'Moby Dick', the whaling collections now within the Hull Maritime Museum form a key part of one of Yorkshire's most popular attractions, with between 73-80k visitors per year. The Museum's collection contains one of the most significant repositories for maritime culture outside of the National Maritime Museum. Housing more than 300 oil paintings, a sizeable print collection, and one of the largest collections of scrimshaw - carving upon whale and walrus bone - anywhere outside the U.S., as well as numerous pieces of whaling and Arctic memorabilia, the museum reflects the city's long maritime history, and is one of the most promising, least explored art historical resources in the region. 19thC marine painting represents the heart of the collection, with a particular emphasis on the inter-related topics of Arctic whaling and exploration, with additional resources in this area available at the adjacent Ferens Art Gallery.

To date, there is a considerable local-historical scholarship on long-19thC whaling, one emphasising Hull's centrality as the whaling capital of Victorian Britain (see Arthur G Credland, 'The Hull Whaling Trade' [1995]). There is also a rich set of commentaries on 'Moby Dick' and its sources (see Watson G. Branch, 'Herman Melville: The Critical Heritage' [1974]). By contrast, scholars have paid virtually no attention to the 19thC art historical cultures of whaling. This is surprising given the recent resurgence of interest in British maritime arts, evidenced by the success of 'Turner and the Sea' (National Maritime Museum, 2013-4), the forthcoming exhibition of British marine painting at the Yale Center for British Art; as well as by major monographs by Geoff Quilley (2011) and others. Indeed, to date, the extant scholarship on the Hull collections comprises the briefly contextualised tombstone entries for the paintings in the PCF's 'East Riding of Yorkshire' volume and the short visitor guide books available in the gift shop, which date back a generation: Arthur G. Credland's 'Marine Painting in Hull Through Three Centuries' (1993) and Credland and Janet West's 'Scrimshaw: The Art of the Whaler' (1995).

Providing the first sustained art historical analyses of its key Arctic whaling collections, 'Bone and Oil: The Visual and Material Cultures of Victorian Whaling' seeks to return Hull's internationally significant collections to centre stage, within the academy and for a diverse public in readiness for the museum's spotlight role in Hull's year as the UK City of Culture in 2017. The project will focus on two main areas of the collection: the whaling themed Arctic marine paintings, and the museum's scrimshaw and other examples of sculpture, such as the life cast busts of two Inuit travellers who were toured round Yorkshire in the 1840s, contextualising these within the museum and the neighbouring Ferens gallery's extensive, related whaling print collections, and more broadly in relation to other British collections, such as the National Maritime Museum, and the multimedia collections of American whaling museums. In so doing, the project will intervene in four current scholarly debates. It will contribute to the increasingly sophisticated scholarship on long 19thC British marine painting. It will provide a key art historical evidence base to challenge the dominant literary/historical accounts of Victorian whaling. It will return scrimshaw to a 19thC sculpture studies increasingly alive to the importance of amateur craft traditions, thanks to the recent development of a highly sophisticated new field of interdisciplinary craft studies. And it will contribute to a new, again fast growing, interdisciplinary animal studies, just finding its feet in art history. The project will also achieve impact in two key ways: through talks, tours and lectures of the museum's displays, and through significant new interpretive resources within its online catalogue collections.


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Edwards (2017) Turner and the Whale

Description I have co-developed and curated an exhibition at the Hull Maritime Museum 'Turner & the Whale' that was on display from October- January 17/18. It saw 51,187 visitors through its duration. The exhibition brought together four paintings by JMW Turner and contextualised them with whaling objects and paintings from the Hull museum collections. Accompanying the exhibition was a catalogue for which I contributed two chapters, and an online version of the exhibition, which has essays, 3-D scrimshaw and an interactive run-through of the exhibition. I also co-organised along with two other PhD students an international Conference 'Consuming Animals' held in March 2017 at the University of York, it included Timothy Morton and Diana Donald as the keynote speakers.
In 2019 I co-curated the 'Here be Whales' exhibition, that was held at Left Bank Leeds and Hull Maritime Museum, it brought together a number of female artists who have explored through contemporary art how we representation whales in the age of the anthropocene. It was funded by AHRC and a short publication was created alongside it.
Exploitation Route It would be useful to those working on whaling or scrimshaw, and thinking about the subjects in more ethical ways. It also may emphasis how to exhibit works in the future that are ethical problematic to a modern audience.
Sectors Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Yes I have co-curated two art exhibitions freelance. One being 'Refuse Refuge' at York Art Gallery, in July 2018 and then another exhibition 'Here be Whales' at Hull Maritime Museum and Left Bank Leeds. These exhibitions translated certain aspects whether theoretical ideas or narrative into a non-academic space and audience.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural