Omai, A Native of Ulaietea by DANCE, Nathaniel - 1774 | Michael Reid Gallery

DANCE, Nathaniel
Omai, A Native of Ulaietea, 1774

Dance, Nathaniel,
Engraved By F. Bartolozzi. Omai, A Native Of Ulaietea.

etching and stipple engraving, 540 x 330 mm.; framed.
London, Publish’d according to Act of Parlt., 25th October 1774.

A wonderful full-length portrait of Omai (also known as “Mai”), the Tahitian who was seen as an outstanding example of Rousseau’s noble savage when he arrived in England on the Adventure with Captain Furneaux on the return to England of Cook’s second voyage in 1774.

The portrait is based on the painting by Nathaniel Dance, who would later also paint Captain Cook. Omai is shown carrying the wooden pillow-stool now in the Musée de Tahiti et des Iles. With a feathered circlet and draped in tapa cloth and with tattooed hands he embodies the beauty of the newly discovered Pacific islanders.

Dance’s portrait is the best known of the several images of the famous Tahitian, who was placed in the care of Joseph Banks and Dr Solander when he arrived in England, both of whom he remembered from their visit to Tahiti five years earlier on Cook’s first voyage. His natural grace captivated London society. This romantic portrait was one of the first of the large-scale and separately issued images produced to satisfy European curiosity and anthropological interest in the peoples of the Pacific. There was a tradition, so terribly questionable to us today, of taking exotic natives of interest back to Europe: there they invariably went on display. The tradition really took hold with the voyagers of the second half of the eighteenth century, most famously with Bougainville and Cook (though nearly a hundred years earlier Dampier had taken Giolo, the “Painted Prince”, back to England with him) and continued well into the nineteenth century.

Beddie, 4569; Nan Kivell and Spence, p. 238 (illustrated, p. 75).

In association with Hordern House.

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