A lost 118-year-old painting by one of Britain’s most famous explorers has been discovered in Antarctica.
Scientists stumbled on the delicate watercolour of a bird in a hut on Cape Adare, a peninsula on the continent’s far east side.
The almost perfectly-preserved artwork was painted by Dr Edward Wilson, a British polar explorer who died in Antarctica with his expedition leader Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
It was hidden among penguin excrement, dust and mouldy papers in the hut he sheltered in on a 1911 expedition from which he never returned.
The delicate painting is labelled ‘1899 Tree Creeper’, and depicts a white-breasted tree creeper bird.
But how it ended up in the Cape Adare hut 12 years after Dr Wilson painted it is a mystery.
Paper conservator Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez found the old artwork while clearing out the hut to ready it for restoration.
It was left in a portfolio sitting on the bed, but she was so surprised to find it that she jumped back in shock.
“I opened it and there was this gorgeous painting,” she said. “I got such a fright that I jumped and shut the portfolio again.
“I then took the painting out and couldn’t stop looking at it – the colours, the vibrancy, it is such a beautiful piece of work. I couldn’t believe it was there.”
The scientists were stumped at first as to who the artist could be.
“The Cape Adare huts were built by Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink’s expedition in 1899 and later used by Captain Scott’s party in 1911,” Antarctic Heritage Trust programme manager Lizzie Meek said.
“We knew the artist was likely to be among the men on those expeditions.”
By complete coincidence, her colleague Ms Bergmark-Jimenez went to a lecture on Dr Wilson while the team were working to discover the painter.
“The presenter showed some of Dr Wilson’s artwork,” she said.
“As soon as I saw his distinctive handwriting, I knew he had painted the Tree Creeper. This made sense as there was also a 1911 newspaper article from the Lyttelton Times in the papers and Scott’s party went to Antarctica via New Zealand.”
The watercolour was discovered in 2016 but kept a secret to let the Antarctic Heritage Trust focus on restoring the 1,500 artefacts they recovered from the Cape Adare huts.
It will be returned when the structures have been secured to ensure their continued protection.