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Right Whaling Scene (Pêche de Baleine. Whale-Fishery)

CAT 171 Garneray right whale scene new bedford whalling museum.JPG

CAT 171. Frédéric Martens after Ambroise-Louis Garneray. Right Whaling Scene (Pêche de Baleine. Whale-Fishery). Paris: 1835. Courtesy of New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Garneray’s Sperm Whaling Scene and Right Whaling Scene were engraved by Frédéric Martens in 1834 and 1835, a few years after Garneray had exhibited the Battle of Navarino at the Paris Salon. Garneray had become keeper of the Museum of Beaux-Arts in Rouen in 1832 and in 1841 he became a marine painter for the Sèvres porcelain manufactory. He appears eminently seaworthy in this drawing by François-Auguste Biard (1799-1882), who had himself traveled extensively in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1820s (fig. 1):


Figure 1. Ferdinand after François-Auguste Biard. Ambroise-Louis Garneray, c. 1837.

In Moby-Dick Melville praised Garneray’s Right Whaling Scene as fulsomely as he had its Sperm Whaling companion: “In the second engraving, the boat is in the act of drawing alongside the barnacled flank of a large running Right Whale, that rolls his black weedy bulk in the sea like some mossy rock-slide from the Patagonian cliffs. His jets are erect, full, and black like soot; so that from so abounding in smoke in the chimney, you would think there must be a brave supper cooking in the great bowels below. Sea fowls are pecking at the small crabs, shell-fish, and other sea candies and macaroni, which the Right Whale sometimes carries on his pestilent back. And all the while the thick-lipped leviathan is rushing through the deep, leaving tons of tumultuous white curds in his wake, and causing the slight boat to rock in the swells like a skiff caught nigh the paddle-wheels of an ocean steamer. . . . Who Garnery the painter is, or was, I know not. But my life for it he was either practically conversant with his subject or else marvelously tutored by some experienced whaleman” (NN MD 266). Behind the furious foreground action in Garneray’s Right Whaling Scene, sailors on the ship are “cutting into” the body of a previously captured whale while the sooty black smoke from an even earlier captive rises from the try-pots, the final transformation of the red jets rising from the struck whale in the foreground.

The images by Garneray that Melville praised as the “finest . . . presentations of whales and whaling scenes ever to be found” in 1851 were experienced very differently by his granddaughter Frances when she visited his house as a very young girl in the late 1880s. The “paintings of the Whalers” were “hanging on the stairway leading to my little room on the third story,” she recalled in 1965. “I reached my bedroom at the head of the stairs after each trip, trying not to look back at those fearful creatures destroying boats in their jaws and plunging men into the foaming seas in a most frightening manner” (Osborne 184). These frightening images were almost certainly the “Whale Pictures” by Garneray that Elizabeth Melville recorded in her memorandum book. Because their location is currently unknown, we do not know whether the two images were original aquatints published by Martens in 1834 and 1835 or copies that were subsequently published in England, France, Germany, or America (see Frank, p. 71).

As a little girl, Melville’s granddaughter Frances naturally sympathized with the sailors who were in danger of being destroyed by the whales. Melville in Moby-Dick invites the reader to sympathize with the whales when he declares that the Garneray engravings “represent attacks on the Sperm Whale and Right Whale” (NN MD 266). His appreciation of the courage of Garneray’s imperiled sailors in no way diminished his wish to convey the power of the “thick-lipped leviathan” in the one print or the majesty of the “Noble Sperm Whale” in the other.