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'Resolution' and 'Discovery' at Tahiti

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
User collections Captain Cook's Third Voyage by NMMCollections
ESH6067WritingEmpire by ESH6067WritingEmpire
Gallery locationNot on display
VesselsDiscovery 1774, Resolution (purchased 1771)

Object details:

Object ID BHC1939
Description (Updates, February 2018) This painting refers to James Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific in 1776-80. In the background the island’s coast rises from left to right under a clouded sky. The bay stretches into the picture space from the left leaving part of the foreground to the depiction of the shore. In the middle ground Cook's ‘Resolution’ (left) and ‘Discovery’ (centre) are at anchor, dominating the calm waters. Islanders and Europeans can be seen in boats and round the shore engaged in conversation and various other activities. Cook's main base in Tahiti was Matavai Bay, but this scene appears largely imagined and indeterminate. It neither suggests nor takes pictorial advantage of the spectacular mountainous landscape of the island though it appears to be a Polynesian view rather than one in New Zealand, as the related print of this composition was advertised (see below). John Cleveley junior, who first worked as a caulker in Deptford Dockyard, is known to have escaped this through being taught watercolour painting by Paul Sandby at Woolwich, where Sandby was drawing master at the Royal Military Academy from 1768. John was subsequently one of those who worked up drawings made on Captain Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas (1772–75) for engraving. Later, through their brother James, who was carpenter of the ‘Resolution’ on Cook’s third voyage (1776–80), both he and his twin brother Robert also had access to some of the artwork produced on that. John did not travel on either expedition himself but took the opportunity presented by a ready market for South Seas images. He composed four pictures said on the subsequent prints from them, and on other advertising, to have been based on sketches 'Drawn on the Spot' by James: these were engraved by Francis Jukes and published by Thomas Martyn in 1787-88. However, some doubts have been cast on how true this was, given that elements in the images are based on wider contemporary European iconography of the Pacific (see Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith, 'The Cleveley problem', vol. III, pp. 216-221 in 'The Art of Cook's Voyages' [3 vols., Yale UP, 1988]). This is one of a set of three paintings in the NMM collection relating to these engravings, probably by the same hand. The other two are BHC1838 and BHC1896. Based on their general characteristics and quality they are more likely to be based on the prints than being Cleveley's original images. While he did paint in oils, few are known and he was much more productive as a watercolourist. This and practical reasons suggest it is more likely his originals were drawings. For the print related to this painting see PAI0471, of which for some reason the original title identified it as a view in Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand, though it clearly is not.
Date made 1780s

Artist/Maker style of John Cleveley, the Younger
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Presented by Captain A. W. F. Fuller through The Art Fund
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 512 mm x 665 mm x 47 mm;Overall: 3.6 kg;Painting: 457 mm x 584 mm
  • 'Resolution' and 'Discovery' at Tahiti (BHC1939)
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