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Beautiful Disaster

The ice is no mere passive obstacle, but a malevolent force that surrounds Frankenstein’s pitched battle with his creature.

beautiful disasterPainting: Caspar David Friedrich, The Sea of Ice, oil on canvas, 96.7 cm × 126.9 cm, Kunsthalle Hamburg. Photo credit: DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

Perhaps the most famous image of the Arctic sublime, Friedrich’s work draws on a pictorial tradition developed across various published works on Arctic exploration and explored over the course of this exhibition.

Here, the floating ice neatly scaled against the ship in the Westall engravings has overpowered an expeditionary ship; sheets of ice and ship materials intermingle within a composition concerned at once with natural formations and civilizational destruction.

The ice here is no mere passive obstacle but a malevolent force, a force that surrounds Frankenstein’s pitched battle with his creature in the unforgiving Arctic environs in which Shelley’s novel opens and closes.