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Lot 36

36. CARTER, George (after). The Death of Captain James Cook, | by the Indians of O. Why. ee one of the Sandwich Islands. [Left below image]: G Carter pinxit [center below image]: S. Smith engraved the landscape [right below image]: J. Hall engraved the Portrait of Capt. Cook, the Figures by J. Thornthwaite. [below title]: London Publish’d as the Act directs by G. Carter of Margaret Street Cavendish Square and Messrs. Sayer & Bennet in Fleet Street Jany. 1st. 1784 | Printed by Stewartson. Copper-engraved plate. Image: 43 x 59.7 cm. (17 x 23-9/16 inches). Image, title, and imprint: 47 cm. (18-5/8 inches) tall. A very good copy in a firm, strong impression, with a few short tears at blank margins and a few other minor flaws skillfully repaired; light browning at blank margins. Professionally deacidified.

     First state. Beddie 2566. This handsome engraving is among the finest images of the death of Cook, very human in its close-up perspective with emotions of Cook and the others sensitively delineated. The print was published separately by Carter in partnership with leading London print and map sellers, Robert Sayer and George Bennett (see Tooley). The print was published a few weeks before the appearance of the authorized atlas for Cook’s third voyage, which contained no image of the death of Cook.

     The murky and tragic circumstances of Cook’s death at Hawaii allowed for wide latitudes in interpretation and representation of the event, which captured the imagination of all of Europe. Some artists showed a merciful Cook, his back turned to the mob, signalling his Marines to cease fire even as his death is upon him. Bartolozzi and Cleveley (see Item 38 herein), for example, showed such scenes. On the other hand, other artists showed a different Cook, one who gave up his life dearly. A recently discovered original drawing also by Cleveley shows Cook defiantly facing the crowd, his musket ready to club his attackers. Artist Johann Zoffany, artist on second voyage, somewhat avoids the beginning of the incident and shows Cook in his last moments, prostrate and under attack. The same scene is repeated later in detail as the frontispiece to Charles R. Low’s edition of Cook’s voyages, which shows Cook partially submerged and under attack (see Item 31 herein). In this image, artist Carter also depicts Cook fighting for his life. Carter’s depiction shows the moment with Cook’s attacker in the motion of stabbing him in the midst of a desperate struggle among Cook, his attackers, and the British forces. Cook sternly faces his foes, musket in hand, and appears every inch the martial commander rather than the sympathetic foreigner seeking to stop a slaughter. For Carter’s original painting in the National Library of Australia, see:

     Because of Webber’s view and the descriptions of others, such as Samwell, Cook’s reputation became generally that of an inoffensive, well-meaning peacemaker overcome and killed by savages who knew no law and no discipline. The interpretation of Cook’s death was complicated by the fact that there were practically no eye-witnesses who produced reports, meaning that all the information available to Europe was generally second hand and sometimes written to justify British conduct in the affair. Lacking almost all understanding of Hawaiian sensibilities and customs, it was easy for Europe to interpret Cook’s demise as a tragic event brought on by actions not of his making and doing, a supposition modern scholarship has seriously questioned. The importance of views such as this one is that they reminded their contemporary audience and remind the modern viewer that there was always the possibility that Cook did not behave in some enlightened manner but did, as probably any man would do, fight for his life against any odds. ($5,000-10,000)

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