John Webber was the official artist appointed by the Admiralty to accompany Captain James CookÂ’s third voyage of discovery to the Pacific, a journey which began in 1776 and ended in 1780.

The brief was that he should record the places, people, objects and events encountered along the way because, explained the Admiralty, pictures ‘would give a more perfect idea thereof than can be formed from written descriptions only’. Webber’s work would then be turned into illustrations to accompany the published account of the trip. Webber painted A View in Macao when the two ships, Resolution and Discovery, were on their return journey from North America. Cook had been killed in Hawaii in 1779 and the ships had stopped at the Portuguese colony in order to take on supplies. The picture shows the mountainous landscape of Macau (now part of China) and its subtitle refers the home of the 16th-century poet Luis de Camoens, who wrote a celebrated Homeric epic there. On Webber’s return to England he used the watercolour as the basis for one of 16 etchings, which were later gathered together in the volume Views from the South Seas (1808/09). It is the only one of the images for which the original artwork was not previously known and therefore represents a significant acquisition for the Captain Cook Memorial Museum. It will now hang alongside other pictures and relics of Cook’s voyages as a poetic record of the sad journey home after the explorer’s tragic death.


Private collection; Reiss und Sohn, October 2013; Hordern House. Featured in Summer 2015 AQ.

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