The present work was presumably painted on Biard's return to France from Spitsbergen in northern Norway in 1841. The voyage came two years after Biard's first Arctic subject: Embarcation attaquée par des ours blancs, which so impressed King Louis-Philippe that he sent Biard on a scientific mission to the Arctic.
The present work reprises a composition of 1839 by Eugène Lepoittevin (Musée départemental de l'Oise, Beauvais). Together the two works reflect the nineteenth century's interest in the history of polar exploration. Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz (c. 1550-1597) and his men made three expeditions in the Arctic in search of a Northern sea route around Russia. On his final expedition Barentsz wintered on the coast of Novaya Zemyla, having earlier passed the coast of Spitsbergen themselves. The Barents Sea was later named in his honour.