Barthélémy Lauvergne

French, 1805–1871

View of Smeremberg Bay, 1839, from Voyages de la Commission scientifique du Nord, c. 1842–1855
21 ½ x 15 x 2 ¾ in. (54.5 cm x 38 cm x 7 cm)
Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology, Kansas City, Missouri

The illustrated atlases of the Scientific Commission of the North aroused the interest of France’s Academy of Fine Arts, which elected a special committee to evaluate the expedition’s artistic achievements. The lithographs, contained in multiple volumes, were based on sketches quickly composed in the field. Faced with countless views to document, the artists’ speed and accuracy were highly valued. These abilities earned Barthélémy Lauvergne, artist and naval officer, the title “living daguerreotype,” after an early photographic process.

Lauvergne depicts the artists Charles Giraud and Francois-Auguste Biard sketching in Spitsbergen. They are oblivious to Mme Léonie d’Aunet, the first European woman to explore the Arctic, who is shown arm-in-arm with two members of the expedition.

In this topographically accurate yet evocative landscape, the artist inspires meditations on humanity’s fragile presence within nature. Lauvergne selects a vantage point that draws the viewer into a forlorn sailor’s cemetery. Open coffins and crosses marking graves challenge assumptions about human dominion over nature.