During William Bradford's most ambitious trip to the Arctic in 1869, the artist wrote: "The icebergs were innumerable, of every possible form and shape, and ever changing. As the sun in his circuit fell upon different parts of the same berg, it developed continually new phases. On one side would be a towering mass in shadow, on the other a majestic berg glistened in sunlight; so that without leaving the vessel's deck I could study every variety of light and shade." (as quoted in William Bradford: Artist of the Arctic, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1969, p. 20)
From his beginnings as a draftsman and painter, William Bradford sought to portray his scenes with the greatest accuracy. "A block or line of rigging out of place, a mast set too forward or aft, the improper location of boat davits and deck furniture, or sloppy rendering of a figurehead would not escape scrutiny..." (R.C. Kugler, William Bradford: Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 2003, p. 6) Born in Salem on the North shore of Massachusetts and raised in the whaling town of New Bedford, near Cape Cod, Bradford was surrounded by water and wharves throughout his youth and became well acquainted with the details of the ships and their sailors as well as the movement and the effect of light against the water.
In the beginning of his career, Bradford was a successful ship portraitist, selling works to owners of vessels and shipmasters. As noted by a critic from the Boston Atlas, "Mr. Bradford has a good eye for naval architecture, and his 'portraits,' had they other merit, would be distinguished for their fidelity. This is especially remarkable in the facility with which [he] seizes upon the peculiar construction of the model; but at the same time it may be seen in the accuracy with which he realizes every part of the ship, even to a block or bulwark. The sea and atmosphere are also well rendered; and the general effect is that of an agreeable picture." (as quoted in William Bradford: Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, p. 6) By the end of the 1850s, Bradford had evolved his subject matter and style from ship portraitist to what his best works are now recognized to be-"detailed presentation of vessels, naturally set on the waters where he found them, often framed by headlands or shoreside wharves and structures." (William Bradford: Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, p. 12)
Bradford first set out for the northernmost latitudes of the Arctic in the summer of 1861, visiting Labrador and Greenland to paint some of the earliest images of this remote region. While there, he also conducted an extensive photographic survey, and recorded his encounters with the indigenous Esquimaux people. Nearly every year over the following decade, Bradford mounted additional expeditions to the Arctic, using his photographs and numerous sketches to form the basis of his many later compositions in oil. As noted by John Wilmerding, "an immensely successful career followed in the wake of his pursuit of the exotic, so similar to Church's. Bradford got extensive backing for later trips, and was subsequently rewarded with publication of his accounts in England and the sale in 1875 of a painting to Queen Victoria." (American Marine Painting, New York, 1987, p. 138)
Taking note of the artist's fidelity to the appearance of ships and topography, the nineteenth-century art historian Henry Tuckerman quoted a contemporary account of one of Bradford's Arctic excursions: " Clad in the sealskin suits of the Esquimaux, Mr. Bradford managed to protect himself from the cold sufficiently to enable him to make many studies, some of them very remarkable in color, and all novel and interesting in subject. The larger part of his studies are of icebergs, various in their forms, some resembling grand old castles and ruins, and others of odd fantastic shapes. When the sun falls full upon them their color is a pure dazzling white; but the portions which are in shade are blue, or green, or purple, fading into delicate tints of gray, and shot with rays of pink and saffron." (Book of the Artists, New York, 1967, pp. 554-55)
In Locked in Ice, the artist depicts several courageous ships and boats filled with men adventuring onto the ice. The work exemplifies Bradford's mastery of detail and light. The artist has carefully rendered every aspect of the scene. The lines, the masts and the nets of the boats are all painted with precision. The artist has also wonderfully painted the icebergs with vigorous brushwork resulting in thick impasto, giving the work depth and texture as he builds up the ice and snow. Through his deft handling of brushwork and detail, in Locked in Ice, Bradford conveys a feeling of accomplishment as these valiant men explore the Arctic seascape.
Boston sculptor Thomas R. Gould noted of Bradford, "the young Quaker, with his marine views, excellent, projecting on gray, and heaving and foamy seas, red flannel shirts, blue caps and brown hands of fishermen, with lines and glints of intense light upon the water-even as Art embosses with lustrous color the neutral tints of his Theology." (William Bradford: Sailing Ships & Arctic Seas, p. 14) Locked in Ice is a majestic example of the artist's most striking legacy, his interpretations of the Arctic wilderness.
This work was acquired in the nineteenth century by an American banker, Joseph R. Walker. Born of modest means in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, and immigrating with his mother and three brothers to Salt Lake City, Walker, who once owned Locked in Ice, grew to become that city's leading merchant, banker and mining man. Starting as a clerk for a pioneer merchant on Main Street, he received an education in merchandising that would help transform a small company into one of Utah's leading businesses. Whenever an opportunity presented itself, branch stores were established. Spared capital was invested in mines, which, in time, through the sale of the famous Emma mine, made the firm of Walker Bros. financial princes. The present painting was acquired by Walker in 1890 and has been owned by the family since.