Challenged at sea with the hunt in full progress, a crew of whalemen have set one harpoon into an Atlantic Sperm Whale and are preparing to strike with another in this dramatic vertical scene by the artist. This painting is after a work that is owned by the New Bedford Public Library that Ashley painted in 1906, and this version was directly commission by the whaling trade firm of Wilson P. Fisk & Co. of Long Wharf 13 in Boston.
The crew is working from the American Bark SUNBEAM, a ship that Ashley himself sailed on in 1904. His photographs of the voyage are featured in the book “Sperm Whaling From New Bedford” by Elton W. Hall, which is considered the most complete visual documentation of life aboard a Sperm whale ship and examination of all the processes and gear. Ashley himself wrote about his experiences for “Harper’s Monthly”, and then in the book “The Yankee Whaler”. The bark was built in 1856 in Mattapoisett, and Bark is one of the very few famous whaling vessels to ever sail into the 20th Century in the trade, alongside WANDERER and of course, the renown CHARLES W. MORGAN. She made 15 voyages between 1856 and 1908, collecting more than 28,000 barrels of whale oil, and continued to sail into the 1920s. New Bedford fortunes and foundation came from the whaling industry, and Ashley helped to capture its important historic contributions in his superb artistic efforts.