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    Description

    William Bradford (American, 1823-1892)
    Off the Coast of Labrador
    Oil on canvas
    20 x 30 inches (50.8 x 76.2 cm)
    Signed lower right: Wm Bradford NY

    PROVENANCE:
    Private collection, Connecticut;
    By descent, circa 1930;
    Private collection, Wolcott, Connecticut, acquired from the above;
    Heritage Auctions, Dallas, November 1, 2019, lot 68173;
    Private collection, Louisville, Kentucky, acquired from the above.

    William Bradford's arresting Off the Coast of Labrador emerged out of a mid-nineteenth-century fascination with scientific documentation, theories of the sublime, and shaping a national identity. Artists of the time, often accompanying government-sponsored scouting expeditions, eagerly explored virgin territories in North America and beyond, rendering awesome landscapes that validated "the rightness of the American character and the freshness of American ideals" (J. Wilmerding, Essays on American Art, Princeton, 1991, p. 108): Thomas Cole, for example, captured the majestic Hudson River Valley wilderness; Albert Bierstadt, the ancient canyons of Yellowstone and Yosemite; Frederic Edwin Church, the roaring spectacle of Niagara Falls; and Martin Johnson Heade, the exoticism of the Brazilian rain forest. For his part, New Englander William Bradford claimed the Arctic Seas as his unchartered subject, from the 1850s until his death in 1892, enlivening for international audiences the otherworldly icebergs, fjords, and color-streaked skies of Labrador. The Arctic as rendered by Bradford was, in fact, a heavenly subject, reiterated by his friend and fellow traveler the Reverend Louis L. Noble:

    "All the sea in that quarter, under the last sunlight, shone like a pavement of amethyst. . . . Wonderful to behold! It was only a fair field from the steepled icebergs, a vast metropolis in ice, pearly white and red as roses, glittering in the sunset. Solemn, still, and half-celestial scene! In its presence, cities, tented fields, and fleets dwindled into toys. I said aloud, but low: 'The City of God! The sea of glass! The plains of heaven!'" (Ibid., 110).

    Bradford's roots in New Bedford, Massachusetts, explain his trajectory to become the "Painter of the Polar World" (Ibid., 58). The international whaling capital, New Bedford provided teenaged William with copious opportunities to sketch the merchants, seamen, and vessels thronging the harbor. Bradford trained with the Dutch painter Albert Van Beest, who had emigrated from Rotterdam in 1845, and learned to balance the details of ship rigging with the atmospheric elements of water and sky. Bradford's first works, essentially ship portraiture for wealthy merchants, recalled those of the noted New England marine painter Fitz Hugh Lane, whose canvases he studied. Eager to establish his own signature subjects, Bradford traveled to Boston's north shore and Canada's Bay of Fundy in the early 1850s; these adventures, together with recent literature about the Arctic and Frederic Edwin Church's paintings of the region, prompted him to venture to remote Labrador, the easternmost province of Canada. On trips to Labrador between 1854-57, Bradford formulated the landscape elements that would sustain the rest of his career: glacial fjords, architectural icebergs, frigid waters, Inuit fishermen, and sun-streaked or starry skies.

    During the 1860s, Bradford made eight expeditions to Labrador, his most ambitious one in 1869 aboard the whaling steamer Panther in the company of sailors, scientist-explorers, photographers, and art patrons. Here, Bradford documented in sketches, paintings, photographs, and writings "aspects of Eskimo life, such as their manufacture of kayaks, . . . the geology of glaciers, and the habitats, feeding grounds, and hunting of bears, seals, and auk" (Ibid., 107). It was the natural wonder of the iceberg that most commanded his attention, prompting him to devise a special studio on the forward deck so that he could render the structures up-close. He wrote:

    "The icebergs were innumerable, of every possible form and shape, and ever-changing. As the sun in its circuit fell upon different parts of the same berg, it developed continually new phases. On one side would be a towering mass in shadow, on the other a majestic berg glistened in sunlight; so that without leaving the vessel's deck I could study every variety of light and shade" (Ibid., 107).

    Bradford was also struck by the eerie isolation of the floating "cities" of ice:

    "Gazing upon such a scene [Wilcox Point, the Devil's Thumb, the mer de glace], although illuminated by the midnight sun, the sense of solitude and desolation made a tremendous impression on me. No living thing was visible, neither bird, nor beast, nor insect. The unbroken silence was stifling, for none of us were [sic.] inclined to talk; I could hear the pulsations of my heart; a species of terror took hold of me; --words cannot describe it, neither can the pencil reproduce the grandeur and immensity of the scene, while the camera, with all its truthfulness to nature, falls far short" (Ibid., 110-11).

    Word of Bradford's Labrador voyages made international news-and secured his fame at home and abroad. In 1872, Queen Victoria commissioned him to paint Panther off the Coast of Greenland under the Midnight Sun, which she displayed in her private library at Windsor Castle. In 1873, Bradford published in London a gorgeous, limited edition, folio-sized memoir of the expedition, The Arctic Regions, with 125 hand-tipped albumen photographs. Other British royalty, including the Queen and Duke of Argyle, the Duke of Westminster, and Baron Rothschild, eagerly purchased his iceberg paintings. This positive reception led Bradford to assume a second career as a lecturer, and he captivated audiences in London and back home with slide shows of his Arctic photographs.

    Bradford painted, Off the Coast of Labrador in the 1880s when he favored more painterly brushwork, light-dark contrasts, and warm "sunset" colors to dramatize the Arctic. As was his practice in his last decades, he relied upon both sketches and photographs from his 1869 trip to shape his compositions. Here, for example, he employs strategic objects--hovering gulls and a floating branch and barrel in the right foreground and various sailing vessels and dinghies in the mid-ground--to zigzag the viewer's eye to the ultimate focal point, the towering glacial range. With a low horizon line, he accentuates the scale of the icebergs, as well as the pink-striated sky at sunset.

    Heritage is honored to be offering this iconic Bradford iceberg painting exemplifying the nineteenth-century sublime landscape tradition.


    More information about William Bradford, also known as Bradford, William, William Bradford.



    Condition Report*: Glue-lined canvas; moderate to heavy surface dirt and discolored varnish; frame wear with paint loss and inpainting on the extreme upper edge; under UV light, the heavy discolored varnish makes difficult to discern any possible previous restoration.
    Framed Dimensions 36 X 46 X 4.5 Inches
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2020
    3rd Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 695

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