The North West or Davis's Streights Whale Fishery
Robert Dodd, Etching, Late 18th Century
The North West or Davis's Streights Whale Fishery
The North West or Davis's Streights Whale Fishery
Robert Dodd (1748-1816) (artist and engraver)
The North West or Davis's Streights Whale Fishery
John & Josiah Boydell, London: May 1, 1789
Color-printed aquatint, finished by hand
Laid rag paper with 1784 watermark
15 x 25.75 inches, image
17.25 x 27.25 inches, plate mark
18.5 x 28.5 inches, overall

Lively scene of whalers at work among the icebergs in the choppy waters of the Davis Strait off the southwest coast of Greenland at the entrance to Baffin Bay.   In the foreground, a man stands in the bow of a rowboat manned by five other men, ready to plunge a harpoon into a whale.  Directly behind him are Dutch and British clipper ships and two more rowboats waiting in case they need to come to the aid of their crewmates if the whale starts thrashing.  More ships, rowboats, and the fluke of a whale can be seen in the distance.  The engraving is initialed and dated in the plate by the artist, on the bow of the rowboat in the foreground.  This popular image was also engraved on a smaller scale by Francesco Ambrosi and published around 1795. 

Whale oil provided a major source of energy during the 18th and 19th centuries, and therefore the whaling industry was of considerable strategic importance.  To remain profitable, 18th century whalers needed to catch the most whales in the shortest amount of time.  There was no concept of sustainability, so ships from Europe and North America would converge on an area year after year until it was depleted, then move on to the next.  In the late 1780s, when this engraving was made, the whaling grounds of the Davis Strait had caught on, and vessels came each summer from Denmark, Holland, Germany, France, Britain, Nova Scotia and Nantucket.  This northern fishery provided much of Britain's oil for decades.

Robert Dodd was a British painter, etcher and aquatint engraver, who sometimes engraved and published his own works and those of his contemporaries.  He began as a painter of landscapes and topographical views, but became best known for his marine and sporting subjects.  In addition to portraying shipping and fishing scenes, he also painted naval battle scenes on commission.  Dodd exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1782 to 1809.

John Boydell was a successful and influential printseller and engraver. Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery is credited with changing the course of English painting by creating a market for historical and literary works.  He also encouraged the development of art of engraving in England with, among other things, his prints illustrating scenes from Shakespearean plays.  By the late 1760s, he was a successful entrepreneur in publishing and retailing prints, also including views, in England and across the continent.  In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner and later his successor, trading as John & Josiah Boydell, or J. & J. Boydell, at No. 90 Cheapside, London.  John Boydell became Lord Mayor of London in 1790.

Full publication information: "Publish'd May 1st 1789 by John & Josiah Boydell.  No. 90. Cheapside London."

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling, soft creases.  Some light skinning to backside (presumably formerly laid down and professionally removed from backing and cleaned).  Overall with bright colors and attractive.


Bockstoce, John.  "From Davis Strait to Bering Strait: The Arrival of the Commerical Whaling Fleet in North America's Western Arctic."  Arctic.  Vol. 37, No. 4.  December 1984.  pp. 528-532.  Online at

Mackenzie, Ian.  British Prints: Dictionary and Price Guide.  Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1987.  pp. 102-103.

Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in Book History.   19 November 2009. (Boydell) and (Dodd) (29 September 2011).

Rusche, Harry. "Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery." Emory University. 1998. (17 August 2010).

Wilson, Arnold.  A Dictionary of British Marine Painters.  Leigh-on-Sea, England: F. Lewis, 1967.  p. 30.

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