The Most Memorable Scenes


“To make the result of our voyage entertaining to the generality of readers, as well as instructive to sailor and scholar, Mr. Webber was pitched upon, and engaged to embark with me, for the express purpose of supplying the unavoidable imperfections of written accounts, by enabling us to preserve and bring home, such drawings of the most memorable scenes of our transactions, as could be executed by a professed and skilful artist.” ---Captain James Cook



The Illustrated Voyage

Artists aboard voyages of discovery and exploration were given the task of making an objective record of the landscapes, people, flora and fauna of the lands they visited.  One would not expect, given the focus on creating an accurate visual record for these expeditions, that there would have been room for the expression of artistic vision. Often, the “artists” were, in fact, not artists at all but, rather, botanists, archaeologists, surgeons, or even crewmen handy with pen or chalk.  Nevertheless, expedition art is often memorable for sumptuous landscapes capturing the mood and exoticism of the distant place, for portraits conveying depth of personality as well as form and feature, for lush flora and for fauna that dances into the viewer’s space.

Expedition artists were influenced by their training, or lack thereof, by their western preconceptions and by the demands of their mission.  Their choice and rendering of subject was, at least in part, framed by the dictates of colonialism and shaped by the artistic conventions of the time.  Yet the vision of the best of these artists has left us not only an historical record of exploration, but also the ability to experience, through their eyes, the profound adventure of discovery.


The Artists


Fernando Brambila

On Spanish expedition with Alejandro Malaspina, 1789-1794.


"Pira y sepulcros de la Familia del Cacique An-kau en el puerto de Mulgrave (ano 1792)"


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"Vista de una Galeria natural de cien de largo y diez de Ancho en la immediacion del Puerto del Descanso en el estrecho de Juan de Fuca."


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Ludwig Choris

On Russian expedition with Otto van Kotzebue, 1815-1818.


Plate III. Ustensiles et armes des habitans du detroit de Behring.


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Plate IV. Habitans des iles Aleoutiennes.


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Plate VIII. Chien de mer du detroit de Bhering.


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Plate VIII. Bateaux des Iles Aleoutiennes.


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Plate IX. Costumes des habitants des Iles Aleoutiennes.


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Plate X. Tchouktchis et Leurs Habitations.


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Gaspard Duche deVancy

On French expedition with Juan-Francois Perouse, 1785-1788.

“… the village of St Peter and St Paul is situated on a tongue of land which, like a man-made jetty, forms a small harbour behind the village, closed like a private home, where three or four vessels could be laid up and winter: the opening of this kind of basin is less than 25 toises wide and nature cannot offer anything that is safer and more convenient …” ---Juan-Francois Perouse


Vue de St. Pierre et St. Paul au Kamtschatka.


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Jean Louis Prevost

On French expedition with Juan-Francois Perouse, 1785-1788.


Oursins de la cote du N. O. L'Amerique.


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Oursins de la cote du l'Amerique.


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Gros Oursin de la cote du N. O. de l'Amerique.


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Tomas de Suria

On Spanish expedition with Alajandro Malaspina, 1790-1794.

"The Indian went away...leaving with us as a present some excellent fish and strawberries and the commander gave him in exchange some looking glasses, little bells, and beads for a large and beautiful sea-otter skin which he wore as a cape." ---Tomas de Suria

"Very early on the morning of the 23rd [Tlupananu] finally came to visit us with the canoe we wished to see... There followed several dances performed by the paddlers themselves on board the corvette, and then on the beach by the observatory, after which all his men came on board the Descubierta to sing and dance as we wished, while Don Tomas Suria drew from life all their actions." ---Alejandro Malaspina




Plate I. A Plebeian.


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Plate V. The Chief Ankaiui of Port Mulgrave.


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Plate VI. A woman of Port Mulgrave.


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John Webber

On English expedition with James Cook, 1776-1780.

“During the time I was at this village, Mr. Webber, who had attended me thither, made drawings of every thing that was curious, both within and without doors.  I had also an opportunity of inspecting, more narrowly, the construction of the houses, household furniture, and utensils.”---Captain James Cook


A Winter Habitation in Kamtschatka.


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Canoes of Oonalashka.


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Natives of Prince Williams Sound.


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Travelling in Winter in Kamtschatka.


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Exhibit curator: Peggy Asbury
Associate archivist and associate curator, Alaska and Polar Regions Collection

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Last updated on December 21, 2005


This page was last modified on April 29, 2013