The first and most familiar image of Captain Cook: Its very first printing by DANCE, Nathaniel - 1779 | Michael Reid Gallery

DANCE, Nathaniel
The first and most familiar image of Captain Cook: Its very first printing, 1779

Engraving, artist’s proof copy
275 x 235 mm, mounted and framed.

London, J K Sherwin, circa 1779.
Very first proof copy of first separately issued portrait of Cook.


A proof impression (before title, date and some letters) of the first issue of the first separately published engraving of Captain Cook.

This famous portrait of the navigator was published in the year of his death, though news of the events at Kealakekua Bay did not reach Europe until the following year. Now the trademark image of Cook as a result of its very many subsequent versions (Beddie lists an astonishing 284 entries for the Dance group), it was considered the best likeness at the time and is known, for example, to have been distributed to friends by his widow Elizabeth. It is a conspicuously rare portrait in this first version. The engraving is based on Nathaniel Dance’s original portrait, commissioned by Joseph Banks, for which Cook sat for Dance in 1776, before sailing on his third voyage. The painting is today in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Dance, one of the greatest of British history painters and a founding member of the Royal Academy, shows Cook wearing captain’s full-dress uniform and holding his own chart of the Southern Ocean: the caption “New Holland” can clearly be discerned in the engraving.

This extremely rare proof was pulled before the image had been titled and dated, and before the usual pinxit and sculpsit notes had been added to the artists’ names; this state corresponds with an example in the Mitchell Library (where it is item 3 in an 18th-century connoisseur’s album entitled “Three voyages round the world”), while a subsequent state with the addition of the title is held in the Dixson Library (Beddie 3379). An earlier less developed form where the shape of Cook’s body has been simply blocked out is held by the National Library (Rex Nan Kivell Collection NK10914/A and /B).

Beddie, 3378.

In association with Hordern House.

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