This essay examines the art and writing of nineteenth-century British explorer George Back. It shows how Back’s strong personality and artistic temperament resulted in a response to the nature of northern Canada that was far from conventional, even though he employed some of the aesthetic conventions of the picturesque and the sublime, popular at that time. It also discusses how Back’s writing changed to a more conventional style as he rose in rank, contrasting his sketches, which did not strictly adhere to the rules governing picturesque landscape art. It also challenges some earlier criticisms of Back’s work through the use of photographs taken on three separate expeditions to retrace Back’s journeys and examines his work in the context of the landscape today. It will show how Back resisted the aesthetic conventions to produce artistic but accurate renditions of the northern landscape, setting him apart among northern explorers of his era.
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