Image: Antarctic Heritage Fund

Fantastic news: the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has recovered a 118-year-old watercolor painting from famed polar explorer, Dr. Edward Wilson. The painting was almost perfectly preserved, but hidden among dust, mold, and penguin shit. Apparently, penguins can’t be bothered with fine art.

Antarctic Heritage Trust paper conservator Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez found the painting while cleaning out a hut in Cape Adare. She was sifting through a portfolio—probably covered in shit—when she found Wilson’s hidden treasure. The painting is entitled “1899 Tree Creeper,” which sounds like someone who stalks unsuspecting families from a tree—but actually, it’s just a bird.

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“I opened it and there was this gorgeous painting,” she said in a statement. “I got such a fright that I jumped and shut the portfolio again. I then took the painting out and couldn’t stop looking at it—the colors, the vibrancy, it is such a beautiful piece of work. I couldn’t believe it was there.”

Edward Wilson was a British physician best known for his artistic achievements. During his time in Antarctica, he sketched and painted many of the local fauna, some of which are kept in The Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. Sadly, Wilson died in 1912, returning to Europe from the South Pole.

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Lizzie Meek, program manager of artifact conservation at the Trust, thinks Wilson painted the tree creeper when he was having a rough time.

“It’s likely that Wilson painted it while he was recovering from tuberculosis in Europe,” she said. “Clearly, he could have taken the painting to Antarctica on either of Scott’s expeditions but we think it’s more likely the artwork traveled with him in 1911, and somehow made its way from Cape Evans to Cape Adare.”

We’re glad the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust was able to find this diamond in the rough, even if it’s just a tree creeper in the penguin shit.