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." (cited in J. Wilmerding, William Bradford, Artist of the Arctic, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1969, p. 20)
This excursion which followed the artist's earlier trips to Labrador and the arctic seas in the late 1850s and early 1860s lasted roughly three months and covered over five thousand miles. Accompanied by a large crew from Newfoundland, a scientist-explorer, his two brothers and several friends, Bradford set sail towards Greenland on the Scotch whaling steamer Panther. In addition to recording the incredible scenery of this vast, remote territory in numerous sketchbooks, photographs and small oil studies, Bradford was simultaneously preparing the text for The Arctic Regions, a limited edition book published in London in 1873.
The impressive display of natural phenomena of this region is revealed in the following words of Frederic Church who also explored this northern territory: "All the sea in that quarter, under the last sunlight, shone like a pavement of amethyst, over which all the chariots of the earth might have rolled, and all its cavalry wheeled with ample room. Wonderful to behold! it was only a fair field for the steeped icebergs, a vast metropolis in ice, pearly white and red as roses, glittering in the sunset. Solemn, still and half-celestial scene! In its presence, cities, tented fields, and fleets dwindled into toys. I said aloud, but low: "The City of God! The sea of glass! the plains of heaven." (J. Wilmerding, p. 23)
Despite its spectacular and awe-inspiring scenery, the arctic region was certainly not free of danger and destruction. Describing one such treacherous event that Bradford undoubtedly faced, this passage from The Art Journal possibly relates to Crushed in the Ice which may have been exhibited in London in 1872.
"She has been caught between the masses of ice, and is heaved up on a pile of blocks, whereby her bulwarks are destroyed, and her timbers crushed in so far below the water-line as to show the impossibility of repair. Her bowsprit and all her upper rigging are gone, and much of the cordage has disappeared. Some of the boats have been saved, and the crew are actively engaged in preserving whatever they can from the wreck. The ill-fated wreck lies near a lofty iceberg, which not only rises perpendicularly to a great height above the sea-level, but may have grounded at a depth of hundreds of feet below the surface." ("Artic Scenery," The Art Journal, XI, London, 1872, p. 241)