The Endurnace Crushed in the Ice-1915
Peter Delman
oil on canvas, 38" x 52";  $2,000
Exhibited at Village West in Wherefore Art Spring 2019

He that commends me to mine own content
Commends me to the thing I cannot get.
I to the world am like a drop of water
That in the ocean seeks another drop,
Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,
Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:
So I, to find a mother and a brother,
In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.

    -- A Comedy of Errors, Act I, Scene 2

It stands to reason that Sir Ernest Shackleton, reared in the British Isles, would be susceptible from youth to the romance of the sea. Dulwich College, where Shackleton spent some teen years, would have fostered such interest. The names of its halls honored Britain's seafaring heroes - Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, among others. This venerable institution possessed a Mercator Atlas with its hand-colored maps and two volumes of the First Folio Shakespeare. Did Shakespeare's "shipwreck plays," in particular, work in ways "rich and strange" on Shackleton's imagination?

Endurance was one of two ships in Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917. With a goal to be the first to cross the vast expanse of Antarctica by land, the expedition came to an abrupt halt in 1915 when the Endurance was entrapped by ice. The crew abandoned ship just a few days before it was completely crushed. With scant hope of success, crew members eventually found rescue by undertaking a perilous journey in open boats.

When the photo on which this painting is based was taken, odds of the crew's survival were slim. Yet the crew member, casually smoking his pipe, seems little concerned as he gazes at the wreckage. Was he confident that the main remaining technology - their long boats - and the crew's ingenuity and skills would save them from a watery grave?

Like Shakespeare's plays, which borrowed plot elements and text from many sources, contemporary historical art can put iconic images to new purpose. This painting now resurrects the Endurance for us to contemplate the imperial urge for dominion over land and sea. More than a century after the original photo was taken, we know that polar ice is affected by human activities, part of climate change patterns that threaten existence on a grand scale. Will we, like Shackleton, escape our modern shipwreck?

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