Picturing the Pacific: Joseph Banks and the Shipboard Artists of Cook and Flinders.
Adlard Coles Nautical.
This work is accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography on an associated website.1 Some of the other features on the website were still awaiting their content at the time of writing this review.2
The book is crammed with pages that were to me an absolute delight. It is a thoroughly well-researched and well-written account of the art of exploration in the 18th century. Taylor, an art historian, researched the subject for his PhD doctoral research.
I found the whole book thoroughly fascinating. It contains a wealth of superbly reproduced illustrations; many from well-known collections we have come across before and are well used to seeing, but some I have not seen published before anywhere.
Taylor manages to weave threads linking artists, patrons, voyages and collectors in a way I have not encountered before. In his comparisons he looks at the works of artists who were on the voyages (such as Sydney Parkinson, William Hodges and John Webber), and those who drew and painted afterwards (such as Battista Cipriani, Johann Zoffany and George Stubbs).
The latter group drew their inspiration from viewing the works of the voyage artists and reading the accounts of those voyages. In doing so Taylor lights up the spirit of enthusiasm for the 18th century world of the enlightenment, science and exploration, as well as the influence on them from classical antiquity.
Taylor reviews the artwork of William Westall. I had not associated Westall with the Pacific before, but he was the official “landscape artist” in Investigator under the command of Matthew Flinders. It was none other than the ubiquitous Joseph Banks who helped him secure the appointment, to compliment the natural history artwork to be carried out by Ferdinand Bauer.
In the foreword Richard J Westall, a descendant of William Westall, sums up the importance of this volume by saying “here for the first time in one volume is an overview of the importance of voyager artists on remarkable expeditions of discovery led by captains James Cook and Matthew Flinders connected by Sir Joseph Banks”.
In the book Taylor compares the large scale canvasses of William Hodges worked up from initial studies during Cook’s Second Voyage, with those of William Westall from Flinders’ voyage of 1801–1803. Both of these artists exhibited their works at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. I found this part of the book a revelation, because of my interest in the collecting, exhibiting and displaying of works of art.
I was fascinated to discover that Westall’s work “View of the Bay of Pines, New South Wales, etc.” exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1805, was the first Australian artwork to be displayed to the public that had been created by a professional artist with first-hand experience of the Pacific. Joseph Banks played a role in the work being exhibited, as he had written to William Marsden the Admiralty Secretary securing the loan of the preliminary drawings Westall had produced during the voyage, They were, as with so many previous voyage artists’ works, lodged with the Admiralty.
One slight drawback for me, which is a minor detail in an otherwise first-class publication, is that some of the groups of pages had different coloured backgrounds for no apparent reason. It left me wondering whether I had missed something important or significant.
- Early December, 2018.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 18, volume 42, number 1 (2019).