William Francis (Will) Longstaff (Australian, 1879-1953)
'Wilkins at the Arctic' signed 'WILL LONGSTAFF' (lower right) oil on canvas 138 x 270cm (54 5/16 x 106 5/16in).
EXHIBITED: Melbourne, Town Hall, September 1929 Sydney, Grace Bros. Ltd., October 1929
LITERATURE: 'Australian Painter Canvasses For Home', The Canberra Times , 6 July 1929 'Longstaff paintings. Exhibition in Australia', The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1929 'Longstaff pictures. Coming to Australia', The Brisbane Courier, 6 July 1929 'Paintings Exhibited.', The Argus, 3 September 1929 'Paintings shown. Mr. Longstaff's exhibition to-day', The Argus, 4 September 1929 'Striking pictures. Painted by Will Longstaff. Two war subjects', The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1929
Sir George Hubert Wilkins (1888-1958), polar explorer, ornithologist, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer, was born in Mount Bryan East, South Australia. From 1913 to 1916 he was second-in-command on Vilhjalmur Stefansson's Canadian Arctic expedition. In 1920-21 he accompanied J. L. Cope on his unsuccessful voyage to Graham Land in the Antarctic, and joined and Sir Ernest Shackleton's Quest expedition of 1921-22. In April 1928, he flew from Point Barrow, Alaska, United States of America, eastward over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway. For this great feat he was knighted and awarded the Patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and the Samuel Finley Breese Morse medal of the American Geographical Society.
The present lot, which caused great excitement when exhibited in Australia, depicts a set-back on that expedition:
"[It] portrays the epic scene where Captain Wilkins, going to the Pole, remains in the storm-swept Antarctic [sic], while his comrades think that their leader is lost. The scene depicts the 'plane rising and Captain Wilkins ruefully regarding the vanishing hope. Captain Wilkins saw the picture and told Longstaff: 'You have captured vividly the terrible tension of that almost tragic occasion.'" (The Canberra Times , 6 July 1929)
"Wilkins and his pilot, Eilson, were forced to land in a storm that lasted some days, and afterward there was difficulty in taking off. Pushing the aeroplane off, Wilkins was unable to regain his seat, and he was dropped to the snow. The pilot relanded, and a second attempt was made. This also failed, but a third effort succeeded. The painting has reference to the incident. Sir Hubert Wilkins has written that 'Longstaff, in his picture, has very cleverly taught the spirit of the scene.'"(The Argus, 4 September 1929)
Several polar expeditions followed, perhaps most famously his failed attempt in 1931 to take a surplus United States Navy submarine, renamed Nautilus, under the pack-ice. Nonetheless, the operation paved the way for successful under-ice transits of the Arctic Sea by the submarines U.S.S. Skate and U.S.S. Nautilus, which Wilkins lived to see. After his death, Wilkins's ashes were scattered from the Skate at the North Pole. The Wilkins Sound and the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica are named after him.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. A. Swan, 'Wilkins, Sir George Hubert (1888 - 1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, Melbourne University Press, 1990