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La Baleine Franche

Date: c 1804
Overall: 335 x 407 mm, 240 g
Medium: Ink on paper, mylar, card
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Print
Object No: 00019666
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This coloured print depicts a stranded bowhead whale on a glacial foreshore. The rigid whale has its tail raised off the ground, and its large baleen plates can be seen. In the foreground is a small open boat with a group of men clambering towards the animal.
    SignificanceThis print is an important record of European illustrations of whales in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and demonstrates the unfolding scientific knowledge of them.
    HistoryEuropean scientific knowledge of whales was a slowly evolving process. Whales were commonly sighted along the European coasts and occasionally seen stranded, however early published illustrations of the animal show a mythical monster-like creature - sometimes depicted with horns spouting water. Many artists did not draw from life, using descriptions given by explorers, scientists and publishers. Many of their works were copied from earlier drawings and offered only slightly different interpretations of the previous studies. The rise of the natural sciences in the 18th century saw a shift from mythical to scientific depictions of whales.

    The late 18th century European voyages of discovery pushed beyond the existing fringes of European settlement, and explored unknown lands beyond established sea routes. These voyages excited the scientific community with the documentation of exotic or previously unknown species. Naturalists, landscape artists, natural history artists and field assistants accompanied explorers on these voyages. The artists produced thousands of sketches and paintings of both plants and animals, from sea and land.

    As a result of these explorations, there was an enormous increase in the publication of scientific writings describing the animals and plants encountered on the voyages. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries numerous comprehensive and beautifully illustrated natural history compilations were published in Europe.

    This print featured in 'Histoire Naturelle de la Cépéd', a natural history of whales, quadrupeds, oviparous animals, snakes and fish, written by naturalist Bernard Germain de Lacépède (1756 - 1825) and published in Paris. The chapter 'Histoire Naturelle des Cétacées' covers 34 species of whales with numerous coloured engravings.

    The Bowhead whale was very appealing to 19th century hunters as it had the longest baleen of any whale and blubber over half a meter in length. The animals slow movement made it an easy target and one of the first species of whale to be hunted. By the 1900s, hunting of the Bowhead had dwindled as the demand for its products diminished and its population numbers fell.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: La Baleine Franche

    Web title: La Baleine Franche

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