November 5, 2017
Leland Curtis (1897-1989), Neny Fjord Palmersland USS Bear, oil on canvas, 31 x 27 3/4 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of J. Rulon and Fern Morgan, 1977.
On this day in 1987, an iceberg twice the size of Rhode Island was spotted in the Antarctic. To commemorate this amazing natural wonder, we highlight this piece from the MOA collection by American artist Leland Curtis. From 1939 to 1940 and in again in 1957, Curtis was the official artist for the United States Antarctica Expeditions and earned national attention for his compelling views of the icebound continent.
This painting, Neny Fjord Palmersland USS Bear, situates Curtis and his comrades in the midst of their Antarctic mission. The vessel, much diminished by the chiseled peaks soaring above the shaded slopes, is nonetheless the subject of the painting. This brutal and isolated clime is reminiscent of the Romantic artists Friedrich or Bierstadt who found savage beauty in Alpen avalanches or titanic sheets of sea ice crushing a hopeless wooden vessel. Yet Curtis’s ship is not imperiled. The viewer knows the outcome of this expedition, that the intrepid ship returns with its mission fulfilled. The fierceness of the frozen continent at the bottom of the world is still dangerous, but 20th-century men of science now interrogate it boldly. And with his brush, Curtis warms the slate-gray peaks and the tumultuous sky with golden light.