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Robert Falcon Scott

3 of 13 portraits of Robert Falcon Scott

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Robert Falcon Scott

by Herbert George Ponting
carbon print, 7 October 1911
14 in. x 18 in. (356 mm x 457 mm)
Purchased, 1976
Primary Collection
NPG P23

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Herbert George Ponting (1870-1935), Photographer and antarctic explorer. Artist associated with 13 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

This photograph by Herbert Ponting, the official photographer to the Antarctic expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, shows Scott in his hut at work on his famous journal. Scott had set sail in the Terra Nova in June 1911, and established his expedition's winter quarters at Cape Evans. Three weeks after this photograph was taken, the expedition set out on their southern sledge journey. On 16 January 1912 they arrived at the South Pole to find the Norwegian Amundsen's flag already there. On the return journey from the Pole, Scott and his companions perished, among them the legendary Captain Oates. The last entry in Scott's journal reads: 'We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 94
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 167 Read entry

    When he was invited by Captain Scott to go as photographer on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1910, Herbert Ponting was already the leading travel photographer of the day and had published his In Lotus Land Japan in that year. His work in the Antarctic was a challenge of an altogether different order. Working with the greatest skill and bravery in extremely hazardous conditions, he produced photographs and motion pictures which are both technically and aesthetically superb. He left the expedition before its tragic end because of illness, but devoted the rest of his life to the preservation of records of it.

    Scott had set sail in Terra Nova in June 1911, and established his expedition's winter quarters at Cape Evans. This photograph shows him in his hut there, at work on his famous journal. He was to set out on his southern sledge journey three weeks later. On 16 January 1912 he arrived at the South Pole, to find the Norwegian Amundsen's flag already there. On the return journey from the Pole Scott and his companions perished, among them the legendary Captain Oates. The last entry in Scott's journal (which was found by a search party eight months later) reads: 'We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more'.

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 179
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 178 Read entry

    On 29 November 1910, Captain Scott set out from New Zealand on an expedition to reach the South Pole. With him was a well-known travel photographer, Herbert Ponting, who documented all aspects of the expedition. This photograph of Scott shows him writing his journal in the base hut at Cape Evans, surrounded by the paraphernalia of the expedition - old socks, binoculars, family photographs, a row of pipes, his old naval overcoat on the bed and even a complete set of the Dictionary of National Biography. It is inscribed 'Captain Scott & his Diary. Scott's Last Expedition, 7 October 1911.' Scott reached the South Pole on 16 January 1912, only to find that he had been beaten to it by a rival expedition led by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Together with all those who had gone to the Pole with him, including Captain Oates, Scott died on the journey back.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 552
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, pp. 182 - 183 Read entry

    Captain Scott is the most famous British explorer of the twentieth century. The failure of his final expedition has made him a controversial figure as well as an icon of heroism and courage. The travel photographer, Herbert Ponting (1870–1935), was invited by Scott to record his final, tragic expedition to the Antarctic of 1910. Working in extremely hazardous conditions, Ponting achieved photographs and motion pictures of exceptional technical and aesthetic quality. He left the expedition before its end because of ill health.

    Scott had established his winter base at Cape Evans in January 1911, and this photograph shows him there, in his hut, working on his journal. It is dated 7 October 1911, just weeks before he set out on his fatal attempt to travel to the South Pole. He reached it on 17 January 1912, only to find that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had arrived a month earlier. Scott and his companions – Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans, Henry Bowers and Lawrence Oates – perished on the return journey. A search party found the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers on 12 November 1912, together with the writings that recorded their fate. The last words in Scott’s journal read: ‘We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write any more’.

Placesback to top

  • Place made and portrayed: Antarctica (sitter's workshop, expedition base at Cape Evans, Ross Island)

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1911back to top

Current affairs

Asquith's Liberal government introduces the Parliament Act to curb the powers of the House of Lords following the clash between the Commons and Lords over the 1909 People's Budget. The Act removed the Lords' power to veto bills, reduced the length of Parliament from seven to five years, and provided for the payment of MPs.

Art and science

Ernest Rutherford discovers the structure of the atom. The New Zealand born physicist working in Manchester showed with his Nuclear Model that electrons orbited a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons. The discovery paved the way for nuclear physics.

International

The Polish Chemist, Marie Curie, becomes the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for her discovery in 1898 of the radioactive element, Radon.
The Mona Lisa is stolen from the Louvre. The masterpiece was missing for two years, during which time suspicion fell on avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire and his friend Pablo Picasso, before Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee of the Louvre, was arrested in Florence.

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