In a century that saw every corner of the globe slowly open to the examining eye of Western science, it was the Arctic – remote, mysterious, untamable – that most captured the imagination of artists and the public alike. Its impact could be seen in a range of visual media from fine art to panoramas, engravings, magic lantern slides, and photographs, as well as hybrid forms of entertainment in which Inuit were “exhibited” alongside a cabinet of assorted Arctic curiosities while Western gentlemen looked on. In a lively and accessible style, Russell Potter traces the story of the long, drawn-out exploration of the Northwest Passage and the beginnings of the push toward the North Pole, each new expedition producing its own artistic response. While early visual representations focused on the natural wonders of a world of magical beauty and purity, later responses would darken, as the public struggled to come to terms with the human toll of Arctic exploration: lives lost, reports of cannibalism, and a sense of purpose gone asunder.
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