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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes Summary

  • Ishmael says that he’s tempted to keep discussing "monstrous pictures of whales" (see Chapter 55), but he’s willing to move on.
  • There are only a few artists and naturalists whose drawings of whales Ishmael can recommend as accurate. The best, he says, are some French engravings based on paintings by Ambroise Louis Garneray (whom Melville calls "Garnery.") They’re "action scenes" of men fighting a sperm whale and a right whale.
  • Even though he admits that "Garnery’s" whales are anatomically incorrect, Ishmael likes the engravings because of the intense depiction of the hunt.
  • For some reason, Ishmael says, the French painters and engravers tend to create "whaling scenes" instead of just drawing "the mechanical outline of things," as the British and American naturalists do in their sketches of whales (56.7).
  • Another French engraver, H. Durand, has also created images of whales together with whaling ships that tickle Ishmael’s fancy.

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