A View of Huaheine (Society Islands)

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John Cleveley (1747-86)
A View of Huaheine (Society Islands)
London: 1787-88
Hand-colored aquatint engravings
Paper size: 23 1/2” x 16 7/8”; Framed dimensions 30 1/2” x 37”

From a Set of the Most Important Scenes of the South Pacific and Hawaiian Islands from Sketches of Captain Cooks’s Third Voyage

The Society Islands, which lie east of Samoa in French Polynesia, were named by Cook when he explored the area in the fall of 1777. Prior to his expedition, very few Europeans had explored the
area, and this view, following on the heels of the scenes published in Cook’s Voyages, was one of the first glimpses available to European viewers. Yet Cleveley’s views, in full, rich color, offered a more developed image of this exotic location than Cook’s uncolored, smaller illustrations. This is a serene image of a calm harbor, with Cook’s sailing ships and smaller native vessels intermingling in the foreground. On the shore, the structures of a small settlement can be seen, while in the background a jagged mountain rises into the sky.

This view of The Society Islands, encountered during Captain Cook’s third voyage, appears very infrequently on the market. Sketched on the spot by James Cleveley, a carpenter on the ship Resolution under Cook’s command, the view was then completed as a finished composition by his brother John Cleveley, who also arranged for their publication as engravings.
After the death of Captain Cook during the course of his voyage, many artists found inspiration in what they perceived as his romanticized and tragic demise at sea. Furthermore, Cook’s published accounts of his journeys were immensely popular. His death left a void for the voracious public appetite for scenes of the exotic locations he had visited. Many artists issued their own visual versions of Cook’s journeys, some who had ties to the expeditions, many more who were not even remotely connected
Cleveley’s stunning views of these bays and islands were some of the most beautiful produced during the years just after Cook’s death. They were, in addition, among the most accurate, as they were rendered on sight. All four views share a sense of excitement of the voyage itself, from the point of view of the men who manned the ships. It is a feeling that Cleveley’s views convey masterfully to the viewer.