Arctic Regions: Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition

The cover of the Arctic Regions, published in London by Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle in 1873

Every piece in the Library has its own unique story to tell, and we invite you to look at a few of the thousands of materials and hear their tales through the Museum's From the Vault, a rotating digital exhibit featuring a different treasure from the Library.

Bust photograph of William Bradford at age 50

Donated to the Research Library's collection by Charles C. Glover III in 1981, the Arctic Regions contains William Bradford’s (1823-1892) narrative of his 1869 Greenland expedition.  At the time of its publication in 1873, this leather-bound elephant folio was the first book to capture the splendor of the Arctic through photography.  While Bradford’s first-hand account relates his experiences among the Arctic scenery and the native “Esquimaux” in extraordinary detail, it is the 141 accompanying photographs that fully transport the reader to the visually stunning Polar realm. 

Born in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, Bradford began his professional career painting ship portraits, but the allure of the unknown drew him to the Arctic.  Bradford’s fascination with the region sparked a series of expeditions to Greenland beginning in 1861.  His final voyage in 1869 proved the most ambitious, for it was this voyage, made solely for the purposes of art, that led to the publication of Arctic Regions.

His final expedition stands out from previous ones due in large part to John Dunmore and George Critcherson, two professional photographers out of the J. W. Black Studio that Bradford hired to accompany him.  Their collaboration proved groundbreaking, as their stunning photographs and Bradford’s detailed narrative intertwine to paint a complete a picture of the region.  Dunmore and Critcherson’s photographs not only added depth to the Arctic Regions, but served as inspiration for Bradford’s later artwork.

This scene demonstrates the size and scope of the landscape photographed by Dunmore and Critcherson.

Noted Arctic explorer and author Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes also joined Bradford on his 1869 expedition.  Hayes’ impact proved immeasurable, bringing to the expedition his knowledge of the region and its people that he gained from his earlier travels along the western coast of Greenland. 

Bradford and his party sailed out of St. John’s, Newfoundland on July 3rd aboard the Panther, a 350-ton steamer commanded by Captain John Bartlett.  The expedition covered over 5,000 nautical miles over a span of three months.  The Panther navigated up the west coast of Greenland as far north as Melville Bay before impenetrable pack ice forced the crew to turn back.  The Arctic Regions illustrates Bradford’s entire journey and the perfect balance of photography and text allows any reader to relive Bradford’s vivid experiences.

This photograph is one of many reflecting Bradford's interaction with the "Esquimaux."

In the words of noted Polar historian Russell Potter, the Arctic Regions remains “the most magnificent book on the Arctic ever to be illustrated with photographs,” and many scholars, historians, and art-lovers echo his sentiments.  No more than 300 copies of the Arctic Regions were printed in 1873.  Now, for the first time since its initial publication 140 years ago, this book is being republished for the modern reader. 

In addition to the book's republication, the Museum has also opened a new exhibition titled: Arctic Visions: Away than Floats the Ice Island.  This exhibit explores the intersections between art, exploration, and human impact on and understanding of the environment and feature the original Arctic Regions as one of its core objects.