The artist was commissioned by the Admiralty to accompany Captain James Cook on his second voyage of discovery. Cook wished to return to the island of Tahiti in order to verify scientific observations made with a number of instruments during his first voyage but, although he was already familiar with the island and its neighbours, he was astonished to find that his arrival coincided with a full-scale review of the island’s war canoes. This extraordinary painting – the largest in this series of oils commissioned by the Admiralty – shows the impact of the voyages of discovery, which led to new lands being claimed in the name of George III. Today, the works are revered for their ethnographic and anthropological content as well as for their wonderful treatment of light. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition, where, together with other works by the artist and by John Webber (the artist commissioned by the Admiralty to accompany Cook’s third voyage), it caused great excitement. London audiences were thrilled by the exotic depictions of strange and wonderful far away lands.
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Ministry of Defence
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commissioned by the Admiralty upon James Cook's second voyage