Te Papa acquires painting from Cook voyage with ‘portrayal of our tīpuna’

Curator of historical New Zealand art Rebecca Rice views Waterfall in Dusky Bay with Māori canoe. - Photo: Supplied / Jack Fisher

Te Papa announced today it has bought a painting from Captain Cook's second voyage to the Pacific.

William Hodges' Waterfall in Dusky Bay with Māori Canoe will now be a part New Zealand's national art collection.

The painting has been held in a private collection in England for over 200 years. It was purchased for $685,000.

Hodges, an English painter employed as a draughtsman on Captain Cook's second voyage to the Pacific aboard the Resolution from 1772-75, was the most important British artist to visit New Zealand in the eighteenth century.

The painting depicts a scene in Tamatea, Dusky Sound: A waterfall cascades through native bush and Māori are seated in a waka, holding large paddles.

Curator if historical New Zealand art, Dr Rebecca Rice, said the work was the earliest painting of a New Zealand subject in Te Papa's collections.

"This magnificent work by Hodges references the first meaningful encounter between Europeans and southern Māori.

"The presence of the waka and Māori figures elevates the painting beyond a mere landscape."

Te Papa head of mātauranga Māori, Puawai Cairns, said the painting reflected the early European imagination, idealising the meeting between Cook and the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

"It is part of a conversation about contesting memories and how we want to truthfully discuss the arrival of Cook."

The painting will be displayed at Te Papa in later this year as part of the national commemoration, Tuia - Encounters 250. It will be the first time the painting has been on public view in New Zealand since it was made over 240 years ago.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu kaiwhakahaere (director) Lisa Tumahai said it was appropriate that this painting was returned home.

"This is one of the earliest artistic depictions by Pākehā of our tīpuna from southern Te Waipounamu.

"The encounter between Cook's crew and the southern Māori families at Tamatea-Dusky Sound in 1773 was amicable. The portrayal of our tīpuna in this painting will be of interest to Ngāi Tahu whānui."

Who was William Hodges?

Hodges was an English painter who trained under leading British landscape artist Richard Wilson.

In 1787, Hodges was elected as a member of London's Royal Academy, a professional body established for the promotion and exhibition of art.

Hodges' career was marked by two major voyages: The first was his appointment as draughtsman on board Cook's second voyage to the Pacific; his second was to India from 1780-83. Both voyages were connected to the rise of the British Empire.

Hodges was charged with making drawings and paintings of the places and peoples encountered during Cook's second voyage.

Consequently, Hodges was the first professional artist to extensively picture non-European lands and peoples in the Pacific and Asia during a period of British imperial expansion.

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