Art and Antarctic Exploration

Art and Antarctic Exploration

Herbert Ponting (British, 18790-1935), Grotto in berg, Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (interior), January 5, 1911.

The artist-explorer, working with scientists in the extreme environment of Antarctica, introduced the public to an alien but captivating landscape. The first expeditionary artists accompanied Captain James Cook, who crossed the Antarctic Circle in 1773.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, expeditions were limited to charting the continent’s coastlines. The twentieth century expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton ushered in the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration. Their dramatic attempts to enter the heart of the continent were immortalized by exploration literature and art.

Antarctica now accommodates artists sponsored by the United States National Science Foundation Antarctic Artist and Writers Program. Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia have developed similar cultural opportunities for engagement with the continent’s unique geography. 

Today’s artist-explorers broaden understanding of polar research and the Antarctic environment. An increasing number of artists also join tourist expeditions to interpret the region’s significance within the context of a changing climate.

Top banner image: Stuart Klipper (American, b. 1941), Seal research transponder, McMurdo Sound sea ice, Razzorback Islands, near Ross Island, Antarctica, 1999