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History, Arctic Expedition, Greenland Inuit Woman, Albert Operti, Antique Watercolor, 1896-97

Albert Operti (1852-1927)
Danish Greenland Eskimo, Female [Inuit Woman]
American: 1896-97
Watercolor on paper
Signed, dated and titled in watercolor by the artist
11 x 7.5 inches, image
12.75 x 8.75 inches, overall
Price on request

Watercolor study from life of an Inuit woman made by the official artist of the Peary Expeditions to Greenland in 1896-97. The standing woman wears a green jacket with a fur collar, red belt, brown pants, and red and white boots. She wears a tall red and brown hat. The artist’s inscription includes the word “Disco,” which indicates that she was a resident of Disko Bay, a large bay on the western coast of Greenland. It is titled “Danish Greenland Eskimo” because Greenland was a Danish territory, and Eskimo was a term then commonly in use to refer to Inuit people.

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Description

Albert Operti, (whose full name was Albert Jasper Ludwig Roccabigliera Operti) was an American painter and scenic artist in New York City, who served as the official artist of the American Museum of Natural History and was known as the “Artist of the Arctic.” Operti was born in Italy and educated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Naval School at Portsmouth, England. After serving briefly in the British Navy, he studied painting and sculpture and emigrated to New York, where he worked as an artist, caricaturist, and theatrical scene painter for the Metropolitan Opera and other theaters. He became fascinated with polar exploration and accompanied the polar explorer Robert E. Peary as the official artist on his 1896 and 1897 expeditions to the Arctic, serving as special correspondent for The New York Herald and also making paintings, photographs, and a series of plaster casts of North Greenlandic Inuit men and women for the American Museum of Natural History. He also made paintings for the museum’s dioramas. Operti’s images of the Arctic were widely disseminated in the first quarter of the 20th century in both museum galleries and popular media such as collectible cards and postcards, and according to a historical essay published in 2020 “bolstered the public imaginary of the Arctic as a sublime landscape even as the region became more mapped and more accessible.” He also made the paintings Rescue of the Greeley Party and Farthest North for the U.S. Army and Navy, and other Arctic scenes for museums. Operti illustrated many books of polar exploration, including the frontispiece for Peary’s Nearest the Pole. Many of his paintings and sketchbooks are in the collection of the Explorers’ Club; his papers from 1896-1926 are in the archives of Dartmouth University. His paintings from the 1896 and 1897 Peary Expeditions are in the collection of the Huntington Library.

Robert Edwin Peary Sr. (1856-1920) was an American explorer and U.S. Navy officer who made several expeditions to the Arctic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He claimed to have reached the geographic North Pole in 1909.

Full inscription: Study from Life. Danish Greenland Eskimo. Female. A. Operti. Disco. Peary Expedition. 1896-7.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, handling wear. Formerly mounted on cardboard, now mechanically removed leaving just one thin remaining layer. Formerly matted with light toning mark, minor abrasions from removal of glue residue, can be rematted to image size given above. Pencil inscription with mat glue residue far lower right, to be matted out.

References:

“Albert Operti.” Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. https://arcticcollections.bowdoin.edu/artist-maker/info/277 (12 February 2021).

“Albert Operti Dies in Explorers Club.” New York Times. 30 October 1927. p. 17. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1927/10/30/96678609.html?pageNumber=17 (12 February 2021).

Capello, Ernesto. “Albert Operti: An Arctic Historical Painter and the Popular Sublime.” Taylor & Francis Group. 2020. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/albert-operti-ernesto-capello/e/10.4324/9780429319211-14 (12 February 2021).

Manser, Ann. “Artists of the Arctic.” UDaily. 24 January 2017. https://www.udel.edu/udaily/2017/january/art-conservation-arctic-explorers-photographs/ (12 February 2021).

Additional information

Century

19th Century