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An Woman of Nootka Sound


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Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID PAI4163
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's traveled to Nootka Sound (King George's Sound), Vancouver Island, on the north-west coast of America between March 29-April 26th, 1778. It is noted that Webber, in representing indigenous people, tended to see the ethnic type rather than the individual. Yet, none of his portraits are stereotypes. His portraits of the Nootka in particular attest to his sense of specific differences among individuals. The women and men of Nootka shared the art of daubing or powdering their faces. The men in general were more particular about it, and the facial ornamentation of the girls was not apparently as artful as those of the men. Samwell tells how a couple of grils, coming on board to offer themselves to the sailors, had taken 'particular pains to daub their Hair and faces well with red oaker.' However all their facial art was washed off by their lovers, in the process of which it was discovered that the girls had 'no bad faces.' This incident may illuminate the fact that Webber does not depict the girl with daubing or smearking on her face. In fact, her face is clean and bright and it would not be unlikely that the sitter is one of the ladies that came on board and received a smart washing. Of special interest is the basketry hat with a bulbous top decorated with a whaling scene. Hats of this kind were worn by chieftains when whaling. Webber repeated the figure a couple of times and even introduced it into later drawings made after the voyage. The original sketch of this woman showed her wearing a hat with a flattened top. But in the engraving, the woman is shown in the hat with whaling scenes, Webber not knowing that 'only chiefs wore these hats.' The hat was not only a spectacular object, it was also an excellent example of Indian craft. Not only did the Indians show great variety in the ornamentation of their faces, their visitors seldom saw one man wear the same countenance two days together. They were an artful people, and it was expressed as much in their dress as in their canoes and weapons. Particularly noteworthy to Cook and his men were the masks of the Nootka, many of which resembled birds' heads. Many of these were traded. This is the second of two such engravings. Mounted in album with PAI4078-PAI4162, PAI4164-PAI4214.; Page 207.; Plate No. 39.
Date made 1778

Artist/Maker Webber, John
Sharp, William
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials engraving & etching
Measurements Sheet: 570 x 400 mm; Plate: 303 x 240 mm
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