Edward Adrian Wilson

British, 1872–1912

Paraselene January 15, 1911, 9:30 pm Cape Evans McMurdo Sound, illustration from Robert Falcon Scott’s Last Expedition, 1912
Private collection

Dr. Edward Wilson, who was also an artist, was hired to organize and direct the scientific crew of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910–12). In this haunting image, he interprets an optical phenomenon, called paraselene, that illuminates five sets of skis and poles staked in the ice. Casting a double halo, the moon cloaks the scene in a spiritual aura. At the time of the work’s execution, Wilson had no way of knowing his tragic fate. This drawing stands as a premonition and memorial to a legendary saga.

Scott and his four comrades reached the South Pole on January 18, 1912, after man-hauling supplies on sledges for three months. Upon arrival, they discovered that the explorer Roald Amundsen had reached the pole a month earlier. On the 800-mile slog back to base camp, a four-day storm prevented the crew from reaching its final depot of food and fuel, a mere 11 miles away. On March 29, 1912, Scott and three of his crew, including Wilson, perished in their tent.