New painting at Grohmann Museum captures history of British ship before it became the Resolute Desk at the White House

A piece of Canadian, British and American history has found a new home in the Grohmann Museum at MSOE. The HMS Resolute in Search of Sir John Franklin, painted in 1850 by François Musin, depicts the crew of the HMS Resolute on their search to find British explorer Sir John Franklin.

In 1845, Franklin and his crew undertook a polar exploration aboard the HMS Erebus and Terror in search of a Northwest Passage—a navigable route connecting the Northern Atlantic to the Northern Pacific through the Canadian Arctic. After a few years, it became clear Franklin, his crews and their vessels were in peril.

Numerous searches for Franklin were conducted, and in 1850 a squadron of four vessels commanded by the HMS Resolute was dispatched. Unbeknownst to them, Franklin and his crew had already perished three years earlier. However, Franklin’s expedition in this age of exploration caught the imagination of artists such as Musin, who produced a number of paintings depicting maritime exploration.

In the HMS Resolute in Search of Sir John Franklin, the ship is shown ice-bound during a search for Franklin. By 1854, Resolute and her squadron were abandoned. However, she was later found some 1,000 miles east in the Davis Strait by an American whaler. The ship was purchased by the United States Congress for $40,000, refitted, sailed to England, and presented as a gift to Queen Victoria in 1856.  

The ship continued to serve in the Royal Navy until 1879, when it was salvaged for timber. The Resolute Desk, built from the ship’s timbers, was gifted to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes by the Queen in 1880. The desk remains in the White House where it has been used in the Oval Office by a number of presidents, including John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

The HMS Resolute in Search of Sir John Franklin is currently on display at the Grohmann Museum.