A painting that shows a rare glimpse of an icebound Halifax Harbour is the focus of a new display, entitled A Moment Frozen in Time, that opened today, Feb. 13, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Painted nearly 150 years ago by a mystery artist known only as Avery, the watercolour depicts the Cunard Line steamer, RMS America, challenging an ice-filled Halifax Harbour. In the winter of 1859, the city’s normally ice-free harbour froze. When RMS America steamed into port on Feb. 14, it made a big impression by successfully smashing through the ice, demonstrating the power and reliability of Cunard’s new steam technology. Haligonian Samuel Cunard revolutionized travel with his safe and fast ocean liners. He could not have planned for better publicity than the RMS America’s challenge, said Dan Conlin, curator of marine history at the museum. “RMS America’s victory over the ice surprised many, as Halifax’s frozen harbour was well-known worldwide.” The painting’s connection to the Cunard Line and its representation of a historic event in Halifax’s history make it rare, but it is the artist’s unknown identity that has emerged as one of the painting’s most compelling qualities. Museum staff searched for any historical records or documentation that could provide clues about the talented painter but, to date, no new information has been discovered. So little is known about the mysterious Avery, it is not even possible to confirm the painter’s gender. In 1859, painting was considered a suitable hobby for women, said Mr. Conlin, so the possibility that the artist was female cannot be ruled out. Despite the lack of information, Mr. Conlin has constructed some theories based on the painting. “Perhaps Avery depicted himself as the well-dressed gentleman leaning into the painting on the right and looking straight at us, across a century and a half of frozen time,” he said. Other items in the display include a bust of Samuel Cunard and a model of Cunard’s first ocean liner the RMS Britannia, which was smaller than the RMS America. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is located at 1675 Lower Water St., in Halifax.