Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Greetings from Antarctica

It is the middle of November and the weather is frigid.  At least by Virginia standards. I wear multiple layers and even a wool cap merely to cross the street to my art studio. These days, however, I do not complain about the cold nearly as much as I usually do.   The oil painting I am restoring puts all my cold weather gripes in perspective.  It depicts a tumbledown shack located in Antarctica, the hut used by the explorer Ernest Henry Shackleton.

Shackleton came from an Anglo-Irish family and  was one of the leading explorers of Antarctica, traveling there a total of four times, three times as the leader of the expedition.The hut was built in 1908 and was intended as a base from which to reach the South Pole.On this particular trip, they came within  97 miles of it but had to turn back. Until I'd researched Shackleton I had not realized that reaching Antarctica was considered less of an achievement than reaching South Pole. Some people really are perfectionists.

The artist of the work I am restoring is Robert Hogue who was the expedition artist for a trip to Antarctica in 1956-1957.  He actually did the painting on site and here is a photograph of him at work, fifty years after Shackleton's expedition. 

The owner of the painting, Steven Dibbern, provided me with this image and it is very moving to me to see the very painting I am cleaning  when it was a brand new work.  If only we could glimpse the artist's face !   

Mr. Dibbern, who has also been to Antarctica multiple times, did extensive research on the artist.  If anybody has any leads on further information, please contact me and I will pass them along..  Below I have included a portion of Mr. Dibbern's essay on Robert Hogue.  I hope you will find it as fascinating as I did:

  Robert E. Hogue went South during the Austral summer, 1956-57 as a contract artist on several of the Navy and Coast Guard icebreakers.  His first job was to paint the invertebrate specimens from Tierney-Holly’s marine biology dredge nets.  Watercolor was and still is very useful in recording and emphasizing the subtle colors of marine organisms in ways that a camera misses.  Many of these paintings were sent with specimens to the US National Museum Natural History Division (Smithsonian).  He also recorded a number of fish, the so called “bloodless” (no red blood cells) Antarctic fish with a natural anti-freeze in their blood. 
  Bob painted and sketched extensively on the various ships he was on and also at some of the historic sites in McMurdo Sound.  Most are charcoals, pencil sketches, pastels and watercolors.  JQ told me that Bob had not come to Antarctica prepared to spend enough time to do oil painting.  He found that he did have enough time at McMurdo Sound however to do a fine oil rendering of Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. The problem was that he had no canvases.  This was solved by the bosun on the Glacier who stretched ships canvas over a frame he made and sized it in preparation for painting with white lead paint!  JQ has a photo of Bob doing that painting in VERY cold plein air.
  Various paintings and sketches of life onboard icebreakers were later displayed in the halls of the Pentagon.  I have not been able to track where they went from there.  He appears to have gotten around quite a bit as his work includes art from the sea ice at McMurdo, Cape Royds, Hut Point, Little America V, Cape Hallet, Wellington and elsewhere.  Some are naval scenes with ships and equipment and sailors, while others are scenes of “sea smoke”, icebergs, and the seaward face of the Ross Ice Shelf.

  The only further information that I have is that after his Antarctic stay Hogue worked for the Smithsonian.  In November 1959 the Natural History Museum announced that he had painted the backgrounds for the famous Hall of the World of Mammals display.

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