Terrestrial Paradises: Imagery from The Voyages of Captain James Cook

Captain Cook Captain Cook
An Exact Representation of the Death of Captn. James Cook, F.R.S. at Karakakooa Bay, in Owhyhee, on Feby. 14, 1779. Accurately Engraved from a Drawing made on the spot purposely for this Work by A. Hogg.
Gift of Drs. Ann and Robert Walzer, 2004.50.9.1
March 1, 2013 - November 16, 2014

Beginning in 1768, Captain James Cook undertook three historic voyages of exploration around the world.  While Cook was not the first European to investigate many of the locations he visited, the large body of artistic output produced during his voyages played a significant role in shaping a Western vision of native peoples from faraway places like the South Pacific.  On each of the voyages, artists created sketches, drawings, and occasionally paintings based on their first-hand observations that were widely reproduced in travel accounts well into the nineteenth century.  Sydney Parkinson and Alexander Buchan on the first voyage, William Hodges on the second, and John Webber and William Webb Ellis on the third came from diverse backgrounds and brought with them differing artistic skills and training.  After returning to England, their work was reproduced in engravings, usually reinterpreted through a neoclassical European eye, to illustrate the official published accounts of the voyages.  The popularity of these accounts resulted in many other similar publications in which engravings were copied, frequently with less attention to detail and artistic skill, to feed the interest of a European audience fascinated by the allure of the peoples, places, and material culture encountered in exotic, foreign lands.

Portrait of a Man of the Sandwich Islands with his Helmet. A Young Woman of the Sandwich Islands. Engraved by Noble after J.K. Sherwi, Gift of Drs. Ann and Robert Walzer, 2004.50.9.2

The Lowe’s engravings are from George William Anderson’s A New Authentic and Complete Account of Voyages Round the World….  Published in London by Alexander Hogg from 1784-1786, the volume was intended to be an affordable option for those interested in travel accounts.  The text was issued in 80 parts that could be purchased by subscription and, when complete, bound into a volume.  George William Anderson is most likely a pseudonym, a device Hogg employed in a number of his publications to endow these inexpensive serials with an aura of authoritative knowledge.  The account itself referenced the official publications of the voyages, and claimed that Anderson was assisted in his effort by an officer who had sailed with Cook, but it was also edited – both textually and visually – to create a more compelling story for readers.  In many cases, the copied engravings deviate in quality and detail from the original, but they retain the fundamental late eighteenth-century European re-imagining of native Pacific Islanders and others as idealized and classicized “noble savages,” reminiscent of the ancient Greeks but lacking their sophistication, happier without the cares of the European world, and at one with nature in, as Cook phrased it, their “Terrestrial Paridises.”