Arctic Sunset, 1874
Oil on canvas
51.4 x 76.8 cm (20 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches)
Gift of Mrs. George H. Davenport 18.192
(October 11, 2013 – February 9, 2014)
A New Bedford native and practicing Quaker, Bradford sought evidence of God’s role in nature and strove to record “every dash of color which the great Painter in his benevolence vouchsafed to us.” In the summer of 1869 he made his second trip to the northeastern Canadian coast, accompanied by photographers equipped with large-format cameras and glass-plate negatives. Freezing temperatures prohibited painting out-of-doors, but Bradford made color notations, snugly dressed in “the sealskin suits of the Eskimeaux.” The photographic images were instrumental in creating Arctic Sunset, as they captured natural phenomena such as light glancing off huge expanses of ice.
Arctic Sunset takes the viewer to the end of the earth and the edge of a magical gold and orange low-lying sunset, existing apart from the frenzy of human activities and the Civil War that raged during the several years that separated Bradford’s expeditions. White ice mountains and icebergs reflect and refract the light. A beauty this impossible requires a dispassionate photographic eye. Traveling with two photographers, John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson, Bradford relied on their images to create something akin to the images of the moon circulated by NASA 95 years later. The seal and the ship offer a reference to size and a reminder that humans are visitors in this extreme land.
Sandor Bodo, photographer and journalist
Selection VIIAmerican Painting from the Museum's Collection, c.1800-1930
Contributions byMandel, Patrica C.F.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1977