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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

4 Portraits of Captain James Cook

John Webber - Portrait of Captain James Cook

4 Portrait of Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779) was a British explorer, cartographer, and Captain in the Royal Navy. 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 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 largely uncharted seas. He mapped numerous 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 on the new parts of 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 that influenced the world, and numerous memorials worldwide have been dedicated to him, reminding us of his legacy.

Portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber (Museum of New Zealand)

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 New Zealand, Australia, 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.

Portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

  • Title:               Portrait of Captain James Cook
  • Artist:             John Webber
  • Year:               1780
  • Medium:        oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   Height: 1,095 mm (43.11 in). Width: 695 mm (27.36 in).
  • Museum:        Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia)

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber

This portrait is one of three surviving paintings of Cook by John Webber and is differs mainly in what he is not holding. In this version, Captain cook is not holding his hat or telescope.  However, 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.

John Webber

Webber was born in London and served as an official artist on James Cook’s third voyage of discovery around the Pacific (1776–80) aboard HMS Resolution. He is best known for his images of Australasia, Hawaii, and Alaska. Returning to England, Webber exhibited around 50 works at various Royal Academy exhibitions and was elected to the Royal Academy. Most of his works were landscapes, and his painting of “The Death of Captain Cook” became well known through many engraving copies.

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN by John Webber (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia)

  • 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

John Webber

  • Artist:             John Webber
  • Born:              1751- London, England
  • Died:              1793 – London, England
  • Nationality:    English
  • Notable Works
    • Portrait of Captain James Cook RN (National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia)
    • Portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Captain James Cook, 1728-79 by Nathaniel Dance-Holland

Captain James Cook, 1728-79 by Nathaniel Dance-Holland (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Captain James Cook, 1728-79 by Nathaniel Dance-Holland ( Royal Museums Greenwich)

“Captain James Cook, 1728-79” by Nathaniel Dance-Holland is a three-quarter-length portrait of Captain Cook wearing his full-dress uniform. Cook navy uniform consists of a blue jacket, white waistcoat with gold braid and gold buttons, and white breeches. Cook is holding his chart of the Southern Ocean with his right-hand pointing to the coast of Australia. Cook’s hat sits on top of a book or his journal.

This portrait, commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks and Cook sat for the picture before he left London for his third voyage from which he never to return. The portrait has an element of idealization with the omission of a large burn scar, which was on the right hand. Banks had sailed with Cook on his first voyage. This portrait hung over the fireplace in the library of Bank’s London house. After Joseph Banks’s death, the picture was presented to the Naval Gallery at Greenwich Hospital.

Nathaniel Dance-Holland

Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1735 – 1811) was a notable English portrait painter and later a politician. He was commissioned to paint King George III and his queen, but in 1790, he gave up his artistic career and became a Member of Parliament. He was made a baronet in 1800, which became extinct upon his death.

Captain James Cook, 1728-79 by Nathaniel Dance-Holland (Royal Museums Greenwich)

  • Title:              Captain James Cook, 1728-79
  • Artist:            Nathaniel Dance-Holland
  • Year:              1776
  • Medium:        oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 1270 mm x 1016 mm
  • Museum:       Royal Museums Greenwich

Nathaniel Dance-Holland

  • Artist:            Nathaniel Dance-Holland
  • Born:              1735 – England
  • Died:              1811 – England
  • Nationality:    English

“Captain James Cook, 1728-79” by William Hodges

Captain James Cook

“Captain James Cook, 1728-79” by William Hodges ( Royal Museums Greenwich)

“Captain James Cook, 1728-79” by William Hodges is a head-and-shoulders portrait in his Captain’s undress uniform. The arrangement of buttons in pairs indicates that he was a captain of under three years’ seniority. Cook was promoted to Captain in 1775. This portrait was completed before he departed on his last voyage in 1776.

Hodges had been the official artist appointed to record the places discovered on Cook’s second voyage, undertaken in ‘Resolution’ and ‘Adventure,’ 1772-75.

William Hodges (1744 – 1797) was an English painter who was a member of James Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific Ocean and is best known for the sketches and paintings of locations Cook visited on that voyage.

Portraits by William Hodges are rare; however, there is boldness and directness in his portrayal of the Cook. Hodges has used light and shadow to present a vivid portrait tinged with a hint of darkness. The origin of the caption in the top left is unknown.

Captain James Cook, 1728-79 by William Hodges  (Royal Museums Greenwich)

  • Title:              Captain James Cook, 1728-79
  • Artist:             William Hodges
  • Year:              1776
  • Medium:        oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  762 mm x 635 mm;
  • Museum:       Royal Museums Greenwich

William Hodges

  • Artist:              William Hodges
  • Born:              1744 – London.
  • Died:              1797 – England
  • Nationality:    English

James Cook’s Family

Cook married Elizabeth Batts, the daughter of one of his mentors in 1762. The couple had six children. When not at sea, Cook lived in the East End of London. Cook has no direct descendants as all of his children died before having children of their own.

Elizabeth Batts Cook (1742 – 1835) was Captain James Cook, widow, for more than fifty years. After her husband was killed, she received an annual pension of 200 pounds from the Admiralty. Outliving her husband and children, she left a bequest to pay the minister, support five poor aged women of the parish and to maintain the family’s monument. The ‘Charity of Mrs. Elizabeth Cook’ is still registered.

James Cook

  • Born:             1728 – Marton, Yorkshire, England
  • Died:              1779 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
  • Nationality:  British

Facts about Captain James Cook

  • James Cook was born in 1728 in Marton, England, and his father was a farmer.
  • At the age of 18, Cook took an apprenticeship as a merchant seaman.
  • During the American Revolution, as Cook was exploring North America, Benjamin Franklin ordered the captains of America’s warships not attack Cook’s ships.
  • Cook’s famous ship, the Endeavour, was typically used for carrying coal. It wasn’t fast, but it was durable and could take more supplies than the faster ships.
  • Captain Cook introduced innovative rules to keep his crew healthy. He required his men to bathe every day, the ship to be kept clean, and the bedding to be aired twice a week.
  • Cook also introduces more fresh fruits such as oranges to keep his men from scurvy and to stay more healthy throughout the long voyages.
  • Isaac Smith was the first European to set foot in eastern Australia, and he was Cook’s cousin.
  • Isaac Smith traveled with Cook on two voyages of exploration in the South Pacific. He was the first to prepare survey maps of various Pacific islands and coastlines, including Tierra del Fuego in South America.
  • With Cook as a model, Isaac Smith (1752–1831) later became a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.
  • The Endeavour also had several English scientists aboard, including the famous botanist Joseph Banks. They collected and recorded numerous plants and animals throughout their journey.
  • Tahiti was so attractive to Cook’s crew and the natives so friendly that some of Cook’s crew wanted to stay in Tahiti.
  • The Maori warriors in New Zealand wore tattoos on their faces. Some of the Endeavour’s sailors also received tattoos from the Maori on their arms. It then started a tradition with Sailors adopting tattoos, that today has spread across the world to many non-sailors.
  • Natives killed Cook at the Hawaiian Islands in 1779

Captain James Cook Quotes

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“The man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”

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“Remember, the greater the opportunity, the fewer are those who see it.”

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“A thinker reverses roles and sees the perspectives of others.”

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“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for a man to go.”

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“Young atheists abound, but old atheists are rare.”

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“Seeds sewn in adversity bear the greatest fruit.”

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“The decline and fall of a civilization are barely noticed by most of its citizens.”

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“To enslave a people, give them money they didn’t earn.”

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“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.”

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“Whatever you do without confidence will be done badly.”

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A Tour of New Zealand’s Museums

A Tour of the National Portrait Gallery, Australia

Explore James Cook

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“Remember, the greater the opportunity; the fewer are those who see it.”
– James Cook

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Photo Credits: 1)John Webber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) John Webber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Nathaniel Dance-Holland [Public domain]; William Hodges [Public domain]

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