16 December 2011


These views of the Arctic are from cigarette cards issued by the Hassan Oriental Cigarette Company between 1900-1917—during the golden age of  polar exploration

The artist is Albert Operti, an Italian who accompanied Robert Peary on his 1896 Greenland expedition. 

Operti also painted many scenes of expeditions he was not a part of. As best I can deduce, the ship in this picture, Hansa, is the same supply vessel that came to an untimely end off Greenland during the 1869-1870 Second German North Polar Expedition. From Wikipedia:

As the supply ship, the Hansa followed the Germania [exploration ship] until July 19, when [Captain Paul Friedrich August] Hegemann misread a flag signal by [captain of the Germania, Carl] Koldeway and went ahead; the ship disappeared in the fog and got separated. The agreement was to meet in such a situation at Sabine Island. After unsuccessful attempts to get there, Hansa was inescapably stuck in the pack ice by mid-September 1869. During the next month, the ship was slowly milled by the ice and finally sank on October 22 at a position 70°32’N, 21°W approximately 10 km from the East Greenland coast. The crew managed to survive the winter in a shelter built of coal dust briquettes, while drifting on the sea ice southward along the eastern coast of Greenland. In June 1870, the crew got to the coast by boat and reached the Moravian Herrnhut mission at Narsaq Kujalleq (then Frederiksdal/Friedrichsthal) near Cape Farewell, from where they got back to Germany on a Danish ship.

When he wasn't painting the real and imaginary Arctic, Albert Operti was painting other make-believe stuff. From Visions of the North:

Like many panorama and diorama painters of the nineteenth century, when the Arctic was also a popular subject for such entertainments, Operti had a background in theatrical scene painting, and it was with this work that he was chiefly occupied in the middle years of his life, principally with the [New York] Metropolitan Opera. In the last six years of his life he returned to the [American Museum of Natural History], painting diorama backdrops, murals, and friezes for their exhibitions. During this period, he actually lived in quarters provided by the [New York] Explorers Club, and it was there that he died in 1927.

All images courtesy the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.
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