Home > Georg Forster at Wörlitz May 2018 to May 2019

Georg Forster at Wörlitz May 2018 to May 2019


A Tahitian breast gorget collected by the Forsters in 1773

The South Seas pavilion

Photos by Heinz Fraessdorf


From 5 May, 2018, the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, is playing host to a remarkable new permanent exhibition, at the start of a special Georg Forster Year at Wörlitz, that ends on 5 May, 2019.1 


Schloss Wörlitz will see the opening of the first permanent exhibition in the Federal Republic of Germany concerned with Georg Forster, the co-founder of the first German Republic, the man who travelled the world with Captain Cook, the pioneer of German travel literature and the founder of the famous Wörlitz South Sea Collection.


Highlights of the exhibition include handwritten South Sea notes written by Georg and his father Johann Reinhold Forster on board Resolution, Captain Cook’s log book of the first months of his Second Voyage, portraits of women and men and landscapes of the South Sea painted by William Hodges (Second Voyage) and John Webber (Third Voyage) and overwhelmingly beautiful drawings of the flowering trees of Tahiti and of penguins at the South Pole by Georg Forster’s own hand.  


The exhibition also attempts to reconstruct the impressive South Sea “collegium” delivered by Georg Forster in the same location almost 250 years ago to the Prince and Princess of Anhalt-Dessau and their guests based on Georg’s famous travel account Voyage Round The World.2  Thus, the dancing apron belonging to a Raiatean dancer is accompanied by the drawing of Poedua, the daughter of the island’s high priest who became synonymous with the mythos of Tahiti in England.  Georg admired her as she danced the heiva, the Polynesian dramatic dance.  The musical notes that he wrote down 250 years ago have now been trans­formed into musical sound for the first time.  An ethno­logical artefact (a sample of hair) connects with the fragrance of the Tiaré flowers that the dancers of the heiva placed in a tall turban com­posed of hair—presumably the origin of this hair sample.  The Wörlitz exhibition is thus also a multi­sensory presentation. 


In 1779, when Georg came to Schloss Wörlitz, he was a guest of Prince Franz (1740-1817) and Princess Louise.  Now, he has returned, bringing with him the treasures that he and his father collected on Cook’s second Voyage (1772-1775). 


The exhibition begins with the final act of Georg’s life—as founder of the first German Republic.  The first incidence of press freedom in German territory, the first elections, the first German parliament, the first German republic: all of these are historical milestones linked to the name of Georg Forster (1754-1794) and his “Mainzer Republik” of 1793.  He wanted to make the liberating ideas of the French revolution a reality in Germany.  Within a few months, his republic was left in ruins by Prussian cannons.  Georg died shortly afterward in Paris, not yet 40 years old.  He was a German whose passionate speech to the French National Assembly was met with thunder­ous applause.  His words “Only a free people has a fatherland!” still ring true today. 


Georg Forster, however, was a pioneer for the whole of his life: at the age of ten, he set out on a first expedition to the Volga with his father, who had been summoned by the Russian Empress Catherine.  Georg was only 17 when he set off with his father in Resolution, acting as a naturalist and an artist, investigating the icy Antarctic waters and the promising islands of the South Sea.  The items they brought back from Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, and elsewhere have found their way into the great collections of the world: in Oxford, Vienna, Berlin and London. 


A small collection of these South Sea treasures also found its way to Wörlitz.  In 1775, some weeks after the Forsters returned in Resolution, the Prince and Princess of Dessau paid a private visit to these two now famous Germans in London.  When they departed, they were given gifts in the form of three dozen “South Sea curiosities”.  These included the breastplate of a warrior and a large number of tapa cloths (from Tahiti), a neck rest, clubs and finely crafted combs (from Tonga), basketwork woven from flax, and pendant earrings made from jade-green stone (from New Zealand). 


Four years later, in 1779, when touring the continent, Georg Forster stayed at Schloss Wörlitz for two weeks as a guest of the Prince and Princess of Dessau. Here, Georg’s retelling of the places he had visited, especially Polynesia, fired the imagina­tion of the Prince.  Prince Franz was so enthusiastic that he commissioned his court architect Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Erd­mannsdorff to build a South Sea pavilion to house the Forster collection.  In it the ethnological arte­facts were presented to the general public for 150 years. 


The commencement of the Wörlitz Georg Forster Year will also see the revealing of a remarkable piece of garden archi­tecture resulting from Forster’s visit to Wörlitz: a stone platform that supports the South Sea pavilion.  It was built as a decorative structure, a double-layered pyramid that resembles a marae, a cere­monial Polynesian cultic space.  A piece of Tahiti in Saxony-Anhalt.   


Return of the Wörlitz South Sea collection


After more than three decades in storage, the South Sea treasures of the Wörlitz Forster collec­tion has been returned to light and restored to the public—products of a spectacular global explora­tion and an unconventional meeting between a combative Enlightenment adherent and an open-minded ruler with a capacity for looking beyond his own horizons. 


Today, the exhibition of the Wörlitz South Sea collection shows aspects of the cultural identity of the Polynesian peoples, especially the pieces collected by the Forsters prior to the Pacific’s colonial conquest by the European powers.


Recent decades have brought new insights into the journeys of Captain Cook and the Forsters, and their exploration of the Pacific Ocean.  In London, Sydney, Paris and St. Petersburg, magnificent and hitherto undiscovered drawings by Georg Forster have emerged.  An attentive chronicler, Forster’s notes even included the scent of a particular landscape, and he also recorded music and songs from the Polynesian islands in musical form.  These sensory impressions are recreated in the exhibition, making the ethnological exhibits more accessible.


Three highlights of the Wörlitz-Forster Year


The top priority is the lasting protection and careful presentation of the 250-year-old, extremely valuable pieces of the Wörlitz Forster collection.  In order to integrate the ethnological artefacts into the permanent exhibition in the mezzanine of Schloss Wörlitz, time and great care must be taken.  As a result, not everything will be on display during the course of 2018.  The intention is that the progress of the conservation of the ethnographic items will be reflected in the exhibition itself.


There will be three highlights during the Wörlitz Georg Forster Year.

§ On 5 May, 2018, the opening of the exhibition Forster in Wörlitz: Südsee-Romantik – Welter­kundung – Aufklärung (Forster in Wörlitz: South Sea Romanticism – World Exploration – En­lighten­ment). 

§ From 6 to 8 September, 2018, a scientific conference entitled Johann Reinhold und Georg Forster – Gesammelte Welten (Johann Reinhold and Georg Forster – Collected Worlds). 

§ On 5 May, 2019, the completion of the Wörlitz South Sea collection will be celebrated, which we are calling the Rückkehr ins Licht (Return to the Light).


As an author, historian and film maker with a lifelong interest in Georg Forster, I am pleased to have developed and organised this exhibition.  I hope that you will visit and enjoy it also.


Frank Vorpahl




2.Forster, George.  A Voyage round the World in his Britannic Majesty’s Sloop Resolution.  1777. 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 38, volume 41, number 2 (2018).

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wrote my doctoral dissertation about the Forsters (Reinhold and Georg) in England
By joseph gordon on 11/14/2018 11:45:52 PM Like:1 DisLike:0

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