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Sir John Ross (1777-1856)

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
Gallery locationPolar Worlds Gallery (Floor plans)
PeopleDepiction: Ross, John
Provenance: Ross, Arthur V.

Object details:

Object ID BHC2983
Description (Updated March 2019) A three-quarter length portrait of Sir John Ross to right wearing a sealskin coat worn over a black coat with naval civilian buttons and his badge as a Kinight of the Swedish Order of the Sword, which he had been made in 1809. He holds a chart in his left hand. The background shows a camp setting in the Arctic. Ross’s early years with the merchant service slowed his promotion once he rejoined the Royal Naval service he had originally entered, and he did not become a lieutenant until 1805. From 1808 he served with de Saumarez in the Baltic and was made a Knight of the of the Swedish Order of the Sword in 1809 after serving on their staff. His arctic explorations began in 1814 and in 1818 he went on Parry’s expedition. Unfortunately on this occasion he identified a range of mountains in Lancaster Sound which must have been a mirage and when they subsequently proved not to be there his reputation suffered. He was not employed again until 1829 when he went on the Felix Booth expedition in command of the ‘Victory’ attempting to find the North-West Passage to the Pacific. He did not return until 1833. In 1839 he went as consul to Stockholm and returned in 1846. Quarrels with others interested in Arctic exploration resulted in his receiving little further employment, and in 1850 he went on an expedition himself at his own expense. The portrait was probably painted in 1833-34 since in December 1834 Ross was first made a Companion of the Bath and then knighted by William IV, who at the same time granted him permission to wear the Russian Imperial Order of St Anne. Details on the left include what is presumably his ship 'Victory' under protection as winter quarters and flying hoists of flags; a small two-masted vessel hauled up ahead of it, an open boat and expedition huts. On the right are two men in polar clothing by a brass cannon, above which flies what is presumably Ross's expedition flag. This bears an elaborate cartouche showing a star above three vertical heraldic beast-heads (identity uncertain) and with the motto 'Deus Adiuvat Nos' (God helps us) below, all overlaid on a St George Cross. While the overall effect and the likeness are good, much of the painting quality is very rough and the origins of the portrait unknown, though it was property of the Ross family, latterly at Wadworth Hall, Doncaster, until October 1917. By then, however, it is clear from surviving records that they did not know who had painted it.
Date made circa 1833

Artist/Maker British School, 19th century
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1420 mm x 1145 mm; Frame: 1577x 1268 x 80 mm, 36.6 kg
  • Sir John Ross (1777-1856) (BHC2983)
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