Since my very first visit to the Netherlands, I have been surprised at the interest of Dutch people in one of the islands in the North of Russia, which they call Nova Zembla, from the Russian name Novaya Zemlya (“New Land”).
This topic of Novaya Zemlya drew attention since the time of the first Dutch explorer of the Arctic – Willem Barentsz, who died there in 1597. After him, this route was never followed by any of his countrymen. However, at the end of the XIX century, there was an expedition on the Dutch schooner Willem Barentsz to Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. This trip was well organized and well equipped. For better documenting the polar landscape, it was accompanied by a Dutch artist Louis Apol (1850-1936).
Louis Apol is best known in the Netherlands – strangely –as the best painter of winter and Arctic landscapes. After the expedition to Novaya Zemlya, in 1896 he made the Panorama Nova Zembla in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, this work was destroyed and lost.
However, there are photos of it left, which are exhibited now together with many other Arctic paintings by Louis Apol in the Panorama Mesdag in Den Haag. These wonderful masterpieces of Louis Apol express all his fascination by this severe part of the world. They show the beautiful northern lights, the cold and deserted landscapes of the Arctic, quite often with a boat frozen into the ice.
They were made not during the trip, but much later and in better working conditions for the master. However, all of them are based on the sketches Louis Apol made during the trip. They also gave him the long-term inspiration to make many other paintings of the Arctic, even 50 years after his trip.
Interesting that in the internet one can read that this expedition went only to Spitsbergen. However the painter was in the meteorological station Malye Karmakuli in the South of the Novaya Zemlya. He even met and made portraits of the local Nenets people there.