Painting of lost Arctic vessel sold for $60,000 at auction

Painting by 19th-century Royal Navy artist and expedition commander George Back showing HMS Terror alongside an iceberg near Baffin Island in July 1836. The painting was sold Tuesday to an unidentified Canadian institution for nearly $60,000

By Randy Boswell - Vancouver Sun

Although the Canadian government failed to find the sunken HMS Terror during its high-profile search last month for the fabled Arctic shipwreck, an unidentified Canadian institution has secured an impressive consolation prize for the country: a historically significant and long-forgotten painting of the vessel that was auctioned this week in Britain.

A 175-year-old watercolour depiction of the ship, painted by the 19th-century artist and Arctic explorer George Back when he was commanding HMS Terror in 1836, sold at a Bonhams art auction on Tuesday to an unnamed Canadian museum or gallery for nearly $60,000 — more than double the expected price.

The picture shows the ship alongside an enormous iceberg in waters off Baffin Island, with one of Terror's lifeboats being rowed in the foreground close to a group of walruses.

Back's sketches and paintings of scenes observed during several 19th-century British expeditions to the Canadian Arctic are among the most important sets of visual documents of the country's early history.

The painting of the Terror emerged recently from a British family of Back's descendants, and experts were not previously aware of its existence.

A Bonhams spokesperson told Postmedia News that the painting was purchased for $58,000 by "a Canadian institution" at the firm's maritime art sale in London.

The painting had been expected to sell for between $15,000 and $25,000.

HMS Terror and its sister ship, HMS Erebus, have been in the news this summer because of a Parks Canada-led search for the wrecks of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition.

HMS Terror Arctic explorer George Back Bonhams art auction Baffin Island