Maritime Art

A Whaler off a Mountainous Coast

By Carmichael, J.W. (1800-1868)

James Wilson Carmichael is an artist of great value to maritime historians because of his experience both of seafaring and shipbuilding. Born in a city with deep maritime heritage, Newcastle upon Tyne, his father was a shipwright and his mother the daughter of a mariner.

Carmichael went to sea as boy and sailed the trans-Biscay trade routes to Spain and Portugal before returning and becoming an apprentice at the Richard Farrington & Brothers, shipbuilding yard at North Shore in Newcastle. Keen supporters of arts in Newcastle, the Farringtons encouraged Carmichael’s artistic talent during his employment and, by 1828, at the age of twenty-nine, he was attracting wealthy patrons.

In this painting Carmichael concentrates on whaling, a topic that is rare in his work and of which he had no first hand experience – though he was certainly interested in dramatic maritime events, particularly shipwrecks. The whales, shown at the front left of the painting, throw up spouts of water while a ship, under both sail and steam, flies downwind as she struggles in a hostile environment that is strikingly reminiscent of Carmichael’s painting of Franklin’s expedition in 1847. Even with whales in sight, the whaler’s boats hang on davits on her stern; this is no sea for launching a hunt.

The painting was purchased for the National Maritime Museum with the assistance of the Society in 1948.

To explore articles in The Mariner’s Mirror that relate to whaling click here.

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