The Arctic Scramble exhibition illustrates the historic Dutch presence in the Arctic region through themes such as the mythical pole, the first attempts to find a northern passage, whaling, winter stays as epic tales of national pride, competition and science, and the rise of tourism in the region.

Arctic Scramble

People have been exploring and mapping the Arctic for more than 400 years. Mythical tales of the Arctic region that date from the Middle Ages tell of a savage, ice-cold, and dark region. In 1596 the Dutch, led by Willem Barentsz, attempted to make the crossing via a shorter Arctic shipping route to Asia. But the extremely cold climate and the polar ice make passage impossible and the crew is stranded on Novaya Zemlya. In the centuries following this attempt, pioneers and scientists explore the Arctic, create maps of the region, and expose its secrets. Global warming turns the unknown Arctic into a stage where an increasingly intensive race for control over trade routes and raw materials is underway. The Arctic Scramble exhibition illustrates the historic Dutch presence in the Arctic region through themes such as the mythical pole, the first attempts to find a northern passage, whaling, winter stays as epic tales of national pride, competition and science, and the rise of tourism in the region.

The Varna in the ice, picture by Henri Ekama, 1883.

Never-before-seen photographs of the ‘forgotten’ expedition

In 1882 the Dutch expedition departs for Western Siberia on steamship the Varna. Members of the expedition, including astronomer Henri Ekama, conduct scientific research in various fields during this journey. When the Varna becomes trapped in the pack ice, the crew is forced to spend the winter on the ice. When the ship sinks in the spring of 1883, the crew decides to attempt the journey back over the ice on foot. After walking across the perilous ice for three weeks, they are rescued by passing ships. Henri Ekama was also the official photographer of the expedition. After his death, the negatives of this unique and nearly forgotten expedition and his polar trousers, canvas boots, snow goggles, and walking stick are donated to National Maritime Museum in 1937. These objects and never-before published photographs are displayed for the first time in history at National Maritime Museum.

The current situation in the Arctic

The Arctic Scramble exhibition closes with the Arctic: New Frontier exhibition by photojournalists and filmmakers Kadir van Lohuizen and Yuri Kozyrev in which they show the current situation in the Arctic. The opening up of the Northeast Passage to Asia gives rise to increased military and economic interest in the region. The exploitation of natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, and precious metals ensures that the major powers compete with each other for the right to exploit the riches of the Arctic. This economic competition is paired with the militarization of the region to decide who the Arctic belongs to, with little consideration of the impact of these developments on the original inhabitants of the region. This presentation forms a direct link to the Rising Tide exhibition by photojournalist and filmmaker Kadir van Lohuizen.

Het Scheepvaartmuseum uses cookies. Want to know more? Read our cookie policy.