Object lessons

Object Lessons: a 19th-century book of photographs of William Bradford's Arctic expeditions

Our pick of highlights from this week’s auctions


New York

Swann Galleries

20 April: Images & Objects: Photographs & Photobooks

William Bradford, The Arctic Regions (1873)

(est. $100,000-$150,000)

An important document of 19th-century environmental photography, this rare leather-bound folio features 141 albumen photographs, including a two-part panorama, and text that capture seven ‘art expeditions’ to the Arctic shepherded by the American artist, best know for his marine paintings. The most ambitious of the expeditions was undertaken in 1869 with John Dunmore and George Crichterson, who are credited as the official photographers of the book. During the voyage, the crew sailed for around 5,000 nautical miles for three months along the coast of Western Greenland before being forced to turn back after the ship became lodged in ice for two days. Experts now believe that some of the photographs in the book—which depict scenes of moored ships, mammoth icebergs, snow-capped mountains and indigenous people—may have been shot by Bradford. He later drew on them as source material for his dramatic paintings. Under the auspices of Queen Victoria, an estimated 300 copies of the book were published in London in 1873, of which this is one. At the time, it was received as a remarkable achievement, as previous expeditions to the Arctic had been illustrated only with engravings.

Update: the work passed at auction.