'A Party from His Majesty’s ships Resolution & Discovery Shooting sea-horses, Latitude 71 North, 1778'

This large picture of walruses ('sea-horses') being shot for food was painted after John Webber’s return to London from Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific (1776–80). Webber was employed by the Admiralty as the official artist on the voyage. After his return he worked to supervise engravings from his artworks for the official voyage publication, and to create large paintings for public exhibition.

This painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1784, highlighting the drama and heroism of Cook's voyage. In his search for a North-West Passage through the American continent, Cook reached Latitude 71 N, the furthest northern point then obtained by a European explorer. His search exposed his crews to arduous Arctic conditions, producing images very different from the warm paradise recorded from his first and second voyages.

This scene emphasizes the intrepid character of the expeditions, as journeys into the unknown and epic contests between man and nature. Cook's men are shown battling the giant, roaring walruses in a bid for survival and food. In fact, in this instance the contest was very one-sided, since the walruses – then a little-known species - were basically harmless. The crew also disagreed about the appeal of walrus meat as a foodstuff.

Object Details

ID: BHC4212
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Polar Worlds Gallery
Creator: Webber, John
Events: Exploration: Cook's Third Voyage, 1776
Vessels: Resolution (purchased 1771)
Date made: 1784
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Ministry of Defence Art Collection North-West Passage The Art and Science of Exploration, 1768-80
People: British Institution ?; HM Admiralty Australian Landscape Touring Exhibition Royal Academy of Arts, London
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 1245 mm x 1575 mm;Frame with cartouche: 1556 x 1850 x 145mm; Frame: 1520 mm x 1850 mm x 105 mm; Weight: 74.8 kg

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