Illustrations from a manuscript sketchbook consisting of forty-eight pages of original drawings of everyday life in Greenland, c.1895-1904, in ink and watercolour by Isak of Igdlorpait.
This sketchbook was produced by the nineteenth-century Kilamiut (West Greenland Eskimo) artist Isak of Igdlorpait, illustrating numerous aspects of everyday life in Greenland circa 1900. The illustrations, executed in an indigenous and simple style, are accompanied by explanatory notes in Greenlandic written by the artist and translations of those notes into Danish by a later owner. Images include representations of boats, fishing, hunting, native costumes, icebergs, the landscape, buildings, local birds, and fish and other sea creatures. Not surprisingly, the majority of the drawings are concerned with boats, fishing, and other activities related to the sea (or the ice). In addition to native boats and kayaks, ships such as a large sailboat and a colourful houseboat are shown. The variety of buildings in Greenland is also in evidence, ranging from native structures built from local materials to farmhouses, multi-storey structures and churches. The artist also included a few miscellaneous images at the end of the book: a book and pen, local flowers and a wooden cross.
This very fine sketchbook documents everyday life in Greenland at the turn of the 1900s, produced by an indigenous Greenlandic artist. Only two other picture-books by Isak of Igdlorpait are known to exist, both of which are in public collections in Europe. This is an important early instance of native Greenlandic art on paper, of which there are very few extant examples. As an artist, Isak is little known, but his contribution to the visual record of Greenlandic life at the turn of the century is unparalleled. He is among the first to depict, using European methods, the cycle of existence for the peoples of the Arctic. Igdlorpait (Illorpaat, in Nanortalik) was an outpost in South Greenland where the Moravian missionaries had established a mission station. As Isak had lost his right arm in a hunting accident, the Moravians hired him as a goatherd. Isak got paper and paints in return for work and drew and painted the life of the settlement, using his left hand.
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image © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
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