John Cleveley (1747-86)


The Exceptionally Rare French Edition of John Cleveley’s Aquatints documenting Captain Cook’s Third Voyage to the South Pacific and Hawaiian Islands
John Cleveley (1747-86)
A set of three hand-colored aquatint engravings
Paper size: approx. 19 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches; Frame size: 31 1/4 x 37 inches
Paris, ca. 1789

 

This beautifully engraved and hand-colored French view is based on a series of four aquatints published in London and originally engraved by Francis Jukes, whom the Gentleman’s Magazine described as “if not the inventor, certainly the first that brought [aquatint] to a degree of perfection” (Vol. LXXXII, p. 300). It depicts sights encountered during Captain Cook's third voyage and each contains a title and description at the lower border (not on the English edition). Sketched on the spot by James Cleveley, a carpenter on the ship Resolution under Cook's command, the view was 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.

This spectacular print is assuredly among the more magnificent, idealistic images of the Pacific ever created. All show the Discovery and Resolution at anchor surrounded by fabulously exotic landscapes, large-scale views that were not present in the official accounts or other publications connected with the third voyage. Cleveley’s prints introduced many Europeans to an area of the world that was just barely beginning to be understood and appreciated.

French interest in Cook’s voyages and other explorations ran high, and translations of many works relating to his voyages were quickly made into French after their initial publications elsewhere. These beautiful, faithful renderings of the original English prints are manifestations of that continued interest among the citizens of England’s greatest oceanic rival. In all four views, Cleveley masterfully conveys the sense of excitement of the voyage itself, from the point of view of the men who manned the ships.