About this artwork

This unique portrait documents the story of the first Arctic Inuk who freely chose to travel to Scotland. Sakæus came from western Greenland and in his eagerness to see the wider world stowed away on a whaling ship. Arriving in Leith in August 1816, his demonstrations of prowess as a kayaker and harpoon-thrower attracted huge crowds of spectators. He made a second visit to Edinburgh in 1817-18, when this portrait was painted. He then joined Sir John Ross’s Arctic expedition as a draughtsman and interpreter but died only a few months after his return. Nasmyth’s portrait reminds us that behind the stories of European ‘discovery’ of distant places were the lives of their indigenous inhabitants, few of whose identities or experiences are now known to us.

Updated January 2022

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Alexander Nasmyth

Alexander Nasmyth

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