Art and Antarctic Exploration

Magnetic Attraction

David Abbey Paige, Aurora Borealis, 1933, Ohio State University Archives, Papers of Admiral Richard E.Byrd.

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

A flurry of expeditions—limited to charting the continent’s coastlines— marked the first half of the nineteenth century. What has been called the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration opened in the early twentieth century with the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton. Their dramatic attempts to penetrate the heart of the continent were immortalized by exploration literature and art.

Today, the continent hosts artists sponsored by the United States National Science Foundation Antarctic Artist and Writers Program. Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia have similar programs. 

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