Captain Cook embarked on three voyages to explore the countries and islands of the Pacific. Artists and botanists were an important part of these expeditions and this exhibition at the Queen’s House in Greenwich showcases paintings of landscapes and botanical specimens either from first hand experience or based on reports and samples from these voyages.
William Hodges accompanied Cook on his second voyage and this show is dominated by his landscapes. It’s evident that Hodges was an accomplished painter but some of his works show that he found it hard to step away from the European colour palette — the forests and waterfalls are clearly not from the UK, yet the colours would feel at home in a Constable landscape. Hodges’s works do become brighter at times though and these must have been enthralling to the British public when they saw them for the first time.
Other paintings of note include Johann Zoffany’s imagined depiction of Cook’s death at the hands of Pacific islanders and John Webber’s portrayal of a walrus hunt. George Stubbs’s paintings of a Kangaroo and a Dingo also take pride of place after having been saved for the nation last year.
The botanical specimens in this exhibition are tucked away in a side room and are arguably the least impressive works on display, as they can’t measure up to the expansive landscapes.
Cynics may argue this exhibition has been put on to justify the £5.5m spent to purchase the works by Stubbs, and though we’re sure this did play a part in putting this show together, the collection of paintings coupled with the adjacent War Artists at Sea display makes for a fantastic dual show of historic naval paintings.
Also on display in the Queen’s House is the work of contemporary artist Rozanne Hawksley who commemorates war and the loss of life at sea through the use of subtle memorials and more macabre works.
The Art & Science of Exploration, 1768-1780 is on until Autumn 2015. Rozanne Hawksley: War + Memory is on until 16 November. Both exhibitions are at the Queen’s House, Royal Museums Greenwich. Free to enter.
For more art to see in London, visit our August listings.