Louis Legrand Noble's After Icebergs with a Painter (1861)
The Reverend Louis Legrand Noble accompanied Frederic Edwin Church on his 1859 trip to Labrador to sketch icebergs. Noble's function on the journey was basically two-fold: to add companionship of a "kindred spirit" nature-lover, and to record the events for book publication. Announced in late 1860, After Icebergs with a Painter: A Summer Voyage to Labrador and Around Newfoundland was printed in New York by D. Appleton & Co. in early 1861. The more than three-hundred-page volume was illustrated with six tinted pictures based on Church's sketches. The fact that an entire book was devoted to a Church excursion should be carefully noted: the volume was a contribution, albeit a modest one, to polar literature, publicity for the painting-to-come, and a valuable memoir of an undoubted art masterpiece. The book's appearance in 1861, just as the picture was nearing completion, was more than a coincidence.
The following is __Noble's account of their first iceberg sighting, off the coast of Cape Race, Newfoundland, on June 21, 1859:
“A large one [iceberg] and a smaller: the latter pitched upon the dark and misty desert of the sea like an Arab's tent; and the larger like a domed mosque in marble of a greenish white. The vaporous atmosphere veiled its sharp outlines, and gave it a softened, dreamy and mysterious character. Distant and dim, it was yet very grand and impressive. Enthroned on the deep in lonely majesty, the dread of mariners, and the wonder of the traveller [sic], it was one of those imperial creations of nature that awaken powerful emotions, and illumine the imagination. Wonderful structure! Fashioned by those fingers that wrought the glittering fabrics of the upper deep, and launched upon those adamantine ways into Arctic seas, how beautiful, how strong and terrible! A glacier slipped into the ocean, and henceforth a wandering cape, a restless headland, a revolving island, to compromise the security of the world's broad highway.” (After Icebergs, p. 28)
After boarding their chartered schooner and venturing farther north, Noble recounted his excitement on July 1, 1859 when the ship was encircled by thirteen icebergs. He wrote:
"I could bound like a deer, and shout like the wild Indian, for very joy... And how lovely the prospect as we go! That this is all God's own world, which he holdeth in the hollow of his hand, is manifest from the impartial bestowal of beauty. No apple, peach or rose is more within one network of sweet, living grace, than the round world. How wonderful and precious a thing must this beauty be, that it is thus all-pervading, and universal! Here on these bleak and barren shores, so rocky, rough and savage, is a rich and delicate splendor that amazes... in passing around a single one, we see as good as ten, so protean is its character... [The largest] resembled, at one moment, a cluster of Chinese buildings, then a Gothic cathedral, early style... [Another group] of block-like bergs which, when thrown together by our perpetual change in position resembled the ruins of a marble city." (After Icebergs, p. 83-85)
Noble also recorded his fascination with the ice's color effects:
“In the seams and fissures the shadows are the softest blue of the skies, and as plain and palpable as smoke. It melts at every pore, and streams as if a perpetually overflowing fountain were upon the summit, and flashes and scintillates like one vast brilliant. Prongs and reefs of ice jutting from the body of the berg below, and over which we pass, give the water that emerald clearness so lovely to the eye, and open to view something like the fanciful sea-green caves … Its water-line, under which the waves disappear in a lengthy, piazza-like cavern, with explosive sounds, is certainly a remarkable feature." (After Icebergs, p. 108)
The realities of their journey, including the seasickness and Church's struggle to sketch aboard a moving vessel also appear in Noble's tale:
“If one is curious about the troubles of painting on a little coaster, lightly ballasted, dashing forward frequently under a press of sail, with a short sea, I would recommend him to a good stout swing. While in the enjoyment of his smooth and sickening vibrations, let him spread his pallet [sic], arrange his canvas, and paint a pair of colts at their gambols in some adjacent field.” (After Icebergs, p. 127)
- Gerald Carr, Frederic Edwin Church: The Icebergs (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1980), 43-46.
- Eleanor Jones Harvey, The Voyage of the 'Icebergs': Frederic Edwin Church's Arctic Masterpiece (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2002), 47.
- Prior to traveling with Church, Noble had been a pastor and eulogist for Church's mentor, Thomas Cole.
- After its first printing in New York in 1861, Legrand's polar memoir was published in London later the same year, and reissued in New York in 1863.
- After Icebergs with a Painter
Read Louis Legrand Noble's complete book published in 1861 and available through the Internet Archive.
- The Voyage of the Icebergs: Frederic Church's Arctic Masterpiece
Enjoy this 2002 DMA exhibition catalogue written by Eleanor Jones Harvey and available online through Issu.