View of Moorea (Tahiti)

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John Cleveley (1747-86)
A View of Moorea
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

This view of Moorea, encountered during Captain Cook’s third voyage, appear 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.

Just after his visit to Matavai Bay, Cook’s group journeyed to a different part of Tahiti, Moorea. A bustling harbor, filled with many native boats as well as Cook’s fleet, its landscape is portrayed as distinctly different from that of Matavai. Extremely jagged mountains rise on the horizon,
dominating the scene. Again, the natives and the Europeans appear to mingle with perfect ease, with no indication that this must have been one of the first meetings of the two cultures.