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A Dance in Otaheite


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Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID PAI4154
Description This engraving after a drawing by John Webber comes from the official account of Cook's third voyage, 'A voyage to the Pacific Ocean', published by Scatcherd and Whitaker in 1784. Captain James Cook (1728-1779) made three separate voyages to the Pacific (with the ships Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure, and Discovery) and did more than any other voyager to explore the Pacific and Southern Ocean. Cook not only encountered Pacific cultures for the first time, but also assembled the first large-scale collections of Pacific objects to be brought back to Europe. He was killed in Hawaii in 1779. John Webber was the artist on Cook’s third voyage from 1776-1780. Cook was in Matavai Bay, Tahiti, Society Islands from August 24-September 30, 1777. Matavai Bay was the most famous place in the South Seas, already visited on several occasions and made known by engravings after Sydney Parkinson and William Hodges. By the time Webber arrived in Tahiti, 'south sea' imagery had become familiar. Webber gave concentrated attention to dance. He had the opportunity to distinguish the Tahitian dance from the more formalized dancing of Tonga. Whereas they seem to have called to mind the more formal dances of antiquity, the Tahitian dancing aroused memories of peasant and folk dancing. Webber's A Dance in Otaheite repeats some of the elements of Cipriani's composition, the drummers, the girls dancing in long gowns, with highly puckered ruffs of tapa attached to the back of the waist and feathery pompons covering the breasts. Similar too are the head-dresses mae from plaited hair and ornamented with blossoms of the Cape jasmin. A mat of rushes had been laid to dance upon. Eight years before, when Parkinson described a Tahitian dance in his journal, he noted: 'In the interval, between the several parts of the drama, some men came forward, who seemed, to act the part of drolls.' The two men portrayed here seem to be playing a similar role. This is the second of two such engravings. Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4153, PAI4155-PAI4214.; Page 198.; Plate No. 28.
Date made 1777

Artist/Maker Webber, John
Sherwin, John Keyse
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials engraving & etching
Measurements Sheet: 400 x 570 mm; Plate: 265 x 408 mm
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