13 Jun 2017

'Significant' painting from Scott expedition revealed

7:30 pm on 13 June 2017

A 118-year-old painting signed by one of Captain Scott's companions and left with junk in Antarctica has been unveiled at Canterbury Museum today.

The watercolour painting, discovered last September, was part of a collection of 1500 artefacts, including old tin cans and leather belts, left in a hut at Cape Adare by explorers.

Conservationist Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez, with the painting she discovered.

Conservationist Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez, with the painting she discovered. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

The painting depicts a bird and is signed by Dr Edward Wilson, who accompanied Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his second Antarctic expedition in 1911.

Antarctic Heritage Trust conservationist Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez said it was a mystery how the painting ended up in the hut.

"It was bewildering ... we didn't know what we were looking at," she said.

Ms Bergmark-Jimenez said her team of four conservationists originally thought it was the first piece of art to be produced in Antarctica.

"It didn't turn out to be that, it turned out to be even stranger," she said.

The title, 'Tree Creeper', along with the date, March 1899, in the bottom-right corner of the painting.

The title, 'Tree Creeper', along with the date, March 1899, in the bottom-right corner of the painting. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

She said it was painted in Switzerland, 11 years before the expedition.

"The mystery of this painting very much adds to, kind of, its allure.

"It's probably not a significant object to Edward Wilson, it's probably not something that he thought a lot about.

"And then down the line it's turned into this amazing thing that we're so happy to have found, and it's so significant and so beautiful."

Programme manager Lizzie Meek of Antarctic Heritage Trust, which is running the conservation project, said many other treasures were also found in the collection.

Programme manager Lizzie Meek of Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Programme manager Lizzie Meek of Antarctic Heritage Trust. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

"From tools, to clothing, to tins of food, to medical chemicals ... a little bit of everything", she said.

But Ms Meek said the discovery of Dr Wilson's painting was highly unusual.

"It's such a personal item, for the most part expedition members would take home their personal items, just like you would if you went on a trip somewhere" she said.

Other artefacts - rather a lot of raspberry jam - were recovered and will be returned to the hut after restoration.

Other artefacts - including several containers of raspberry jam - were recovered and will be returned to the hut after restoration. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Ms Meek said the project was funded by the Norwegian and New Zealand governments, as well as private donors.

The painting will be returned to the hut, as well as the other 1500 artefacts, after restoration work is completed.

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