Joy of Museums

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“Portrait of Captain James Cook RN” by John Webber

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia - Joy of Museums - Portrait of Captain James Cook RN

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber

Captain James Cook RN (1728 – 1779) was a British explorer, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy (RN). Cook made three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he was the first European to chart the eastern coastline of Australia, the Hawaiian Islands and to circumnavigate of New Zealand. Cook’s voyages provided Europeans with their first glimpse of the native peoples, culture, wildlife and geography of many newly discovered lands such as Tahiti, Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia.

Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and came to public attention when he was commissioned in 1766 as commander of HM Bark Endeavour for the first of three Pacific voyages. During these voyages, Cook sailed thousands of miles across mostly uncharted seas. He mapped many lands across the Pacific Ocean in historical detail and scale. Cook surveyed and named features, and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps that for the first-time shed light to the blank parts our global atlas. Cook took possession of the entire east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales, in the name of His Majesty, King George the Third.

Cook was attacked and killed in Hawaii during his third voyage in the Pacific in 1779. He left a legacy of geographical and scientific knowledge which influenced the world, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him, reminding us of his legacy.

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John Webber’s ‘The Death of Captain Cook’

This portrait is one of three surviving paintings of Cook by John Webber RA (1752-1793). Webber was an English artist who accompanied Captain Cook on his third Pacific expedition. He is best known for his images of Australasia, Hawaii and Alaska. The illustrations Webber made were included in the official record of the voyage and boosted its commercial success. In London, Webber was often visited by people keen to hear tales of the tragic death of Cook and to see his drawings and curiosities.

In his posthumous portrait of Cook, Webber depicted Cook in the glove he customarily wore to conceal the scars from an injury he sustained in North America in 1764, when a horn of powder he was holding exploded.

Among the many historical portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, the following are highlights:

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN

  • Title:               Portrait of Captain James Cook RN
  • Artist:             John Webber
  • Year:               1782
  • Medium:        oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  114.3 x 89.7 cm
  • Museum:         National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia


” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.” Australian Proverb



Photo Credits: 1) JOM