Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Encounters with Hawai'i: Art in an Age of Exploration, 1778–1820

On view now at the Honolulu Museum of Art, Encounters with Hawai'i: Art in an Age of Exploration, 1778–1820 brings together artwork associated with the European navigational voyages of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These lengthy expeditions explored and charted the lands that dotted the Pacific, and they carried with them painters, draftsmen, scientists, and cartographers, who documented the flora, fauna, terrain, and inhabitants of the distant lands they encountered. The drawings, paintings, and prints they generated comprise the earliest visual record of Hawai‘i.
The installation begins with the British painter and draftsman John Webber, who traveled with Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage, from 1776 to 1780. This expedition brought Cook and his crew to Hawai‘i, and Webber, as its official artist, pictured their experiences and discoveries in an elaborate series of drawings and watercolors, which were published to illustrate the official narrative of Cook’s travels.
Subsequent trips brought additional artists—most notably the Russian Louis Choris and the Frenchman Jacques Arago—who depicted Hawaiian religion and customs before and shortly after the fall of the kapu system. Taken together, these works reflect an era of great curiosity about the world and its inhabitants, and in their time popularized Hawai‘i for audiences well beyond its shores.

Louis Choris, A Temple in the Sandwich Islands, ca 1819

John Webber, Kealakekua Bay and the Village "Kowrooa", 1779

Images and information courtesy of the Honolulu Museum of Art

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