Nova Zembla coast signed and dated 'AB. 1841' (lower right) oil on canvas 120 x 165cm (47 1/4 x 65in).
PROVENANCE: Private Collection, Paris
François Auguste Biard was a French genre painter who travelled the world looking for inspiration. He was known for his great realism in his works and gained popularity mainly through depictions of humorous scenes. He was also able to capture anything from humour to horror, and it was through this versatility that he demonstrated his great talent. This picture was painted after the artist had returned from a journey to Spitsbergen, and is reminiscent of another of his works showing a confrontation between man and arctic beast, now at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Norway, Fighting Polar Bears.
This particular painting depicts a scene from 1596-7 of the arctic expedition of Dutch explorer, Willem Barentsz, who attempted to find a northeast path through the Arctic to China, but was shipwrecked on the way. The tale is recounted in L'Histoire des Naufrages. As Barentsz and his crew tried to navigate their way eastward, they came upon Spitsbergen (credited with having discovered the island), located in the archipelago of Svalbard. Moving further east, they were then faced by inhospitable conditions as their ship was closed in by ice, forcing them to abandon ship and remain on Novaya Zemlya (also known as Nova Zembla) through the winter. Nature caused more issues for the Dutch crew members as not only were they threatened by cold and ice, but also by polar bears. The particular moment depicted here shows a few of the sailors, near the hut they constructed for shelter on the northeast section of the coast, shooting polar bears. The concept and composition are based upon an 1839 work by one of Biard's fellow artists and friends, Eugène Lepoittevin. In this work Biard truly captures the frigid environment and perilous situation of this historical scene.