Together with his fellow Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church, William Bradford was a major popularizer of the Arctic in American art. Residing in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he developed his mature style painting whalers and clipper ships before undertaking a series of eight voyages to the Labrador coast and beyond from 1861-1869. In addition to painting, he also made extensive use of photography. His travelogue The Arctic Regions (1873) is now considered a landmark in the history of the photographically illustrated book.
An Arctic Summer: Boring Through the Pack in Melville Bay is a product of his final and most ambitious journey aboard the steamer Panther, engaged in the search for the Northwest Passage. According to Bradford’s journals, the crew had made an unsuccessful attempt to hunt the polar bear shown in the foreground, “anxious to possess so fine a skin.”