Author Tags: 1700-1800, Art

As the draughtsman on Cook’s visit to Nootka, John Webber produced drawings that appeared in the Admiralty’s official version of Cook’s journal, greatly contibuting to its popularity. As the second-most prolific artist on the voyage, he would render 326 paintings and portraits, including preliminary sketches, prior to his death in 1793. Until the advent of photography, Cook’s third expedition was the most extensively documented voyage in history.

Webber painted Cook three times from life, twice in 1776 and once in 1777. The third portrait was painted in Tahiti and given by Cook to his friend Chief Tu (Otoo). It has since disappeared. The first two paintings are in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and the National Art Gallery, Wellington. Webber’s posthumous 1782 portrait of Cook is one of five known surviving portraits produced in the 18th century. A less severe representation than the better-known portrait by Nathaniel Dance, it was acquired in 2000 by the National Portrait Gallery in London.

John Webber was born circa 1752 in London as the son of a Swiss sculptor. He apprenticed for three years with the Swiss landscape artist Johann Aberli, then studied in Paris. At age 24 he was admitted to study at the Royal Academy in London where he exhibited for the first time in 1776. He was recommended to serve as the official artist on the Resolution by the Swiss naturalist Daniel Solander who had sailed with Cook on his first voyage to the South Seas. Webber joined Cook’s crew at Plymouth and later produced several noteworthy images of Nootka Sound.

Some of Webber's various images were gathered and reproduced as acquatints, accompanied with text, in an 1808 book. The plates are:

1) "View in Queen Charlotte's Sound, New Zealand."
2) "Boats of the Friendly Islands."
3) "A Sailing Canoe of Otaheite."
4) "A View of the Island of Cracatoa."
5) "A View of Oheitepeha, in the Island of Otaheite."
6) "Waheiadooa, Chief of Oheitepeha, lying in State."
7) "View of the Harbour of Taloo, in the Island of Eimeo."
8) "A Toopapaoo of a Chief with a Priest making his offering to the Morai, in Huahine."
9) "The Resolution beating through the Ice, with the Discovery in the most eminent danger in the distance."
10) "The Narta or Sledg for burdens in Kamtchatka."
11) "Balagans or Summer Habitation, with the method of drying fish at St. Peter and Paul, Kamtchatka."
12) "View in Macao, including the residence of Camoens, where he wrote his Lusiad."
13) "View in Macao."
14) "A view in the Island of Pulo Condore."
15) "The Plantain Tree, in the Island of Cracatoa."
16) "The Fan Palm in the Island of Cracatoa."


Views in the South Seas, from drawings by the late James Webber, Draftsman on board the Resolution, Captain James Cooke [sic], from the year 1776 to 1780 (London, 1808)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "1700-1800" "Art"