Before cameras became ubiquitous in the late 19th century, sketchwork was an essential skill for exploration parties. Franklin was fortunate to have two talented artists with him on the first expedition, George Back and Robert Hood. Their beautiful sketches, with Back excelling in landscapes and Hood in intimate profiles of animals and people, did much to ensure that the journey would have enduring appeal.
Many of Back and Hood’s original drawings were coloured, retouched, and lithographed since Franklin’s journal was first published in 1823. Fortunately, they have also been scanned at high quality and shared by archival institutions and museums in recent years.
Library and Archives Canada
LAC houses George Back’s original sketchbooks and have published many scans themselves on their Flickr account.
The staff also run a Discover blog that highlights new and interesting items in their collections, including four recently acquired drawings by Robert Hood.
A UK-based charity, the website works with private and public collections to locate and publish historic pre-photography images, many of which have never been scanned before.
Almost all of George Back’s watercolours can be found here, and many but not all of Robert Hood’s.
National Gallery of Canada
The NGC is the national exhibition space for Canada’ preeminent visual artists. It is also one of the largest art museums in North America. They recently profiled George Back whose watercolours from the second expedition the gallery holds.