Julius Payer – Starvation Cove

Date: 25.11.2005 - 05.03.2006

Exhibition of a monumental painting depicting the tragedy of Sir John Franklin’s polar expedition

The National Gallery in Prague
Veletržní Palace, Small Hall

The National Gallery in Prague would like to thank the Geophysical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic for the lending of this work.

The exhibition is held under the patronage of Her Excellency Margot Klestil-Löffler, Ambassador of the Austrian Republic to the Czech Republic.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery in Prague and the Austrian Cultural Forum Prague
Exhibition concept, exhibition curator: Ondřej Chrobák
Architectonic solution: Tomáš Svoboda
Graphic design of the printed materials: Adéla Svobodová
Restoration of the painting: Věra Cedlová and Dagmar Konvalinková
The following departments of the National Gallery in Prague participated in the preparation and realization of the exhibition:
Exhibition Department (Lucie Zavoralová), Installation Group (headed by Jiří Leubner)
Department of Photography (Milan Posselt, Jan Diviš)
Documentary movie: Return of and to the Starvation Cove Director: Jaromír Pesr
Camera: Michal Černý
Production: i/o post

The painting is on loan from: Geophysical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
General Partners: Austrian Cultural Forum Prague, Geophysical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

Main partner: Panasonic
Main media partner: Hospodářské noviny daily
Media partners: Classic FM, Český rozhlas 3-Vltava, Art and Antiques monthly
Financial partner of education departments: HVB Bank
Partners of the exhibition: Prague Castle Guard, Termo+, vodka Kalashnikov,
Prague Best, i/ o post

“Land, land, finally land!” was heard on 30 August 1873 aboard the steamboat Viceadmiral Tegetthoff. That day, the Austrian-Hungarian polar expedition, imprisoned in an ice field and carried only by the wind and the currents of the sea, saw, some as of yet unknown, land north of the Newfoundland islands. In accordance with the rights of first discovery, the area was occupied for the monarchy and named Franz Joseph Land in honor of the Emperor. One of the leaders of the expedition was Julius Payer (1841–1915), a native Czech from the North-Bohemian town of Šanov near Teplice. He was a career officer with experience in making alpine ascents and was in command of sledge expeditions that resulted in the acquisition of detailed information about the newly discovered land.

After his happy return from the Arctic, Payer became a celebrity of both scientific and social life. At that time, however, the second and no less renowned chapter of his life began. Payer voluntarily gave up his promisingly launched scientific and military career and decided to solely devote himself to painting. At the age of 36 he left for painting school in Frankfurt am Main and from there set off to Paris through Munich.

Conquering the far North remained for Payer his life’s focus even while a painter and it became an almost exclusive subject of his works. In 1883, Payer finished his first masterpiece painting, Starvation Cove, depicting the tragic end of the polar expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin. The disappearance of Franklin’s expedition which set off in May 1845, on the ships Erebus and Terror, to search for the legendary North-Western passage, became an event of global importance. A reward, in the amount of 20 thousand pounds, offered by the British government for the expedition’s rescue, as well as news from returning rescue expeditions greatly thrilled not only the public but also artists’ imaginations.

None of 127 members of the expedition escaped death. Payer chose the final act of the tragic epos to transfer to canvas. The last surviving crew members were able to drag their dinghy as far as to the open sea after exhausting march and under unbelievable strain, but, due to inscrutable fate, they lost their last bit of energy at the very moment when the prospect of salvation seemed to be within arms reach. In 1880, American polar expedition close to King Wilhelm Island discovered the remains of probably the last members of Franklin’s expedition. The place of the discovery was named by the commander of the American expedition, Frederick Schwatka, Starvation Cove.

In creating the painting, Payer aimed at the most truthful depiction of the event, primarily taken from Schwatka’s testimonies. In London, he also thoroughly studied all the authentic objects that were discovered by rescue expeditions, and taking from the daguerreotypes that had survived, he sketched portraits of Franklin and his officers. He was thus able to endow real historical figures into the life of the painting. Captain Francis Crozier, who took over the leadership of the expedition after Franklin’s death, with a gun in his hand, faces the attacks of a polar bear. Lieutenant Edward Couch lies in the dinghy holding a prayer book; in the center of the painting, icemaster James Reid and the expedition’s physician Stephen Samuel Stanley are dying of exhaustion and cold, and on their left, Lieutenant Charles Frederic Des Voeux has just passed away. He is half-buried in snow, his head bent backwards.

It was through a cooperation with the Paris gallerist Charles Sedelmeyer that Payer was elevated to a place amongst the leading painters of his time. His painting Starvation Cove traveled through the galleries of most of the major cities throughout Europe. Its tour did not elude Prague, where the local art-loving public had the opportunity to see it at the end of 1886 in the newly opened Ruch [The Stir] Gallery on Senovážné Square. In 1897, fifty years after Franklin’s tragic death, Julius Payer had painted a replica of Starvation Cove, this time in colossal dimensions. The painting was purchased in 1908 by the Modern Gallery, the direct predecessor of today’s National Gallery in Prague, for a then-horrendous sum of 16 thousand Crowns. In the mid-1960, the painting was renounced by the National Gallery at that time as “unnecessary for serving its objectives” and transferred to the property of the Czech Geophysical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic which provided the painting on loan to our present exhibition.

Almost one hundred years have passed from the moment when, in 1908, viewers had the last chance to see Starvation Cove in the framework of the Jubilee Exhibition organized by the Krasoumná Jednota association in Prague’s Rudolfinum. The aim of today’s exhibition is to remind the public of an artist almost forgotten in Czech lands, whose paintings once hung in gallery halls next to works by painter Václav Brožík. The concept of our exhibition quite intentionally refers to the past practice: exhibitions of a single painting like Starvation Cove and similar monumental works were, in the time of their creation, a well-tried and rather usual form of presenting fine art.

Part of the exhibition is a documentary entitled Return to the Cove (dir. Jaromír Pesr) which depicts the demanding way of transporting and restoring the large-dimensional painting. The opening will be underlined by Weyprecht-Payer March, performed by the Prague Castle Guard Ensemble. The march was composed in honor to the polar expedition in 1874 by popular composer Eduard Strauss (brother of the famous Johann Strauss the Younger). It will be most probably the first performance of this composition in Czech lands.

Open daily except Mondays, free entry
Information/Phone: +420-224 301 122
Address: The National Gallery in Prague – Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, Veletržní Palace,
Dukelských hrdinů 47, 170 00 Prague 7
How to get there: Tram 12, 14, 17, stop Veletržní

Contact for journalists:
Petra Jungwirthová, head of Press and Communication Dpt. of the National Gallery in Prague, phone: +420-222 32 14 59, cell phone: +420-606 166 513

Information and booking: Education Department, Collection of 19th-Century Art, the National Gallery in Prague, phone: +420-224 301 003, e-mail: lect.suds@ngprague.cz

Wednesday guided tours with the exhibition curator
Duration: 30 minutes
Price: entry free (guided tours are held on the gallery’s day of free entry)
Place to meet: foyer behind cashier desks, Veletržní Palace
Dates and time::
Wednesdays, 5 p.m.: 7 December 2005, 4 January 2006, 1 February 2006

Booked guided tours
Book a guided tour to the exhibition – come with your friends, club members, or friends from abroad!
Available in Czech, English and German.
Prize: basic – 200 CZK per hour and group.
Guided tours shall be booked two weeks in advance.

Information and booking: Education Department, Collection of 19th-Century Art, the National Gallery in Prague, phone: +420-224 301 003, e-mail: lect.suds@ngprague.cz

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