Painting with connections to Captain Cook bought for Captain Cook Memorial Museum

  • 28 May 2009

A painting linked to the family of legendary explorer Captain Cook has gone on permanent display at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. The pen, ink and watercolour work was painted by 18th century artist William Hodges and is entitled Matavai Bay, referring to the bay on the Pacific island of Tahiti which it depicts.

The painting was acquired with help from a £25,000 grant from independent charity The Art Fund. Additional funding came from the Normanby Charitable Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Pilgrim Trust, Cook Museum Trust, Sir George Martin Trust as well as individual donors.

The painting is dated 1773-1774 and depicts a scene from the latter part of Captain Cook’s second voyage of exploration (1772–75), which ranged from the icy seas of Antarctica to the fertile islands of the central Pacific.

In the work, Hodges captures an atmosphere of calm and tranquillity as well as the dramatic, vibrant landscape of Tahiti.

Andrew Macdonald, Deputy Director of The Art Fund, said: "This subtle, delicate watercolour is not only pleasing to the eye, it is also an important historical document in its own right. The Art Fund is delighted to have played a part in putting this work on public display for the first time."

Sophie Forgan, Chairman of the Museum’s Trustees said: "We are delighted to be able to acquire this painting which shows such an important place in Cook’s voyages. It joins three other works by Hodges, which give a real sense of the strange and distant people and places that Cook saw. We are particularly grateful to The Art Fund and all our supporters for their help in enabling the Museum to continue adding to the collection at a difficult financial time."

William Hodges was the first professional European artist to visit Tahiti and the official artist of Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery. Cook visited Matavai bay on all three of his voyage because of its strategic location as a point for observing the Transit of Venus.

The painting had originally belonged to descendents of the executors of Elizabeth Cook, the explorer’s widow, and has never been exhibited before. It has now gone on permanent display at the Captain Cook museum.

William Hodges was regarded highly by Cook, who described him as ‘that indefaticable gentleman’ [sic]. Cook was extremely interested in the engineering of Polynesian vessels. He directed Hodges to draw them and record as much visual detail as possible, whatever the weather conditions.

Previously unknown, Matavai Bay came up for auction in late 2007. Whilst it did not sell at the time, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby since raised money to acquire it with the help of The Art Fund.


For further information contact Dr. Sophie Forgan, 01642 712429

Notes to editors:

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London in February 2009 with a grant of £1 million; helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit .

The Art Fund is a Registered Charity No. 209174

Supported in many cases by The Art Fund, the Captain Cook Memorial Museum now offers an increasingly rounded collection of paintings and drawings in which Hodges, Parkinson, Ellis and Webber, artists on the Voyages are well represented, as well as the Gainsborough portrait of Lord Sandwich and the group portrait of Omai, Banks and Solander by William Parry

The Museum is a registered charity and is located on Grape Lane, Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO22 4BA. It is in the Grade 1 listed building to which the young Cook came in 1746 to become a seaman apprentice.

The Museum tells the story of Cook, and of the crews, artists and scientists who sailed with him. It illustrates the story with original paintings and drawings from the Voyages, letters in Cook’s hand and other important manuscripts, ship models, artefacts from the Pacific.

Open daily to end October, 9.45am to 5.00pm

Admission: Adult £4.00, Child £3.00, Senior £3.50, Family £10.50

School Group pre-booked £2.50 per pupil.

Tel: 01947 601900. E: