John Webber, R.A. (1751-1793)
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John Webber, R.A. (1751-1793)

A View in Nootka Sound

Details
John Webber, R.A. (1751-1793)
A View in Nootka Sound
signed and dated 'J. Webber . del 1784.' (lower left), with inscription 'Webber / 814' on the mount, with Sir Bruce Ingram's collector's stamp on the reverse of the mount
pencil, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
22 1/8 x 18 ¼in. (56.3 x 46.3cm.)
Provenance
with Francis Edwards, 1929 (unnumbered catalogue no 6: 'A fine spirited picture of a view on the Coast of Kamschatka, showing natives in a canoe, others by the side of a stream, with hills and mountains raising up in the rear.').
James Edge-Partington (1854-1930).
with Francis Edwards (Catalogue of the Australasian Collection of Books and Pictures formed by the late James Edge-Partington, London, 1934, 169 (2539 'Original Water-Colour Drawing of a View in Kamschatka, painted by J. Webber from a Sketch made during Cook's Third Voyage, size 22 by 18 in., signed and dated 1784 £28')
Sir Bruce S. Ingram, OBE, MC (1877-1963).
Dr Carl Schaefer Dentzel, Northridge, California (1913-1980).
Mrs Carl Schaefer Dentzel, Northridge, California.
Private collection, California.
Literature
F. Edwards, Catalogue of the Australasian Collection of Books and Pictures formed by the late James Edge-Partington, London, 1934, 169 (2539).
R. Joppien and B. Smith, The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, Volume Three Catalogue, The Voyage of the "Resolution" and "Discovery" 1776-1780, pp.247, 453, 3.214.
Exhibited
(possibly) London, Royal Academy, 1785, no.491 ('View in Nootka; Drawing.').
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Lot Essay

That we might go out with every help that could serve to make the result of our voyage entertaining to the generality of readers, as well as instructive to the 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 to bring home, such drawings of the most memorable scenes of our transactions, as could be executed by a professional and skilful artist.

James Cook


In search of a watering place, Cook arrived off Nootka Sound at the end of March 1778, and was met by the Mowachtaht and Muchalaht First Nation who went out in boats to greet the visitors, their chief calling out a phrase 'nu.tka.?icim', meaning 'sail around', which the expedition mistook for the place name, and so they named the Sound. After two days they moored in Ship Cove (now known as Resolution Cove), on the southeast side of Bligh Island. Cook anchored here for the duration of their stay, his launches making excursions to explore the Sound. Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to land here, going ashore to visit three villages, Cook taking Webber to Yuquot on 22 April to record the inhabitants, the buildings and their interiors.

Webber made numerous drawings of the expedition's anchorage, the rocky coastal landscape, the inhabitants and their villages, fulfilling his Admiralty instructions 'to make Drawings and Paintings of such places in the countries you may touch at in the course of the said Voyage as may be proper to give a more perfect Idea thereof than can be formed by written description only.' His work, as was intended, complemented and amplified the many written accounts (thirty logs from the voyage are recorded), including Cook's, which were intended for publication.

Joppien and Smith record thirty-two drawings and watercolours and one oil by Webber which relate to the visit to the Sound (R. Joppien and B. Smith, op. cit., pp.433-469). There is a smaller pen, wash and watercolour of this subject dated 1778, painted on the voyage (3.212, British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings, 1859-7-9-102) and an oil painting dated 1783, probably the picture exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785 (3.213, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1946.323). The present sheet is one of a number of later more highly finished re-workings of his voyage images painted for exhibition at the Royal Academy between 1784 and 1791. The central figure of a hunter holding a bow appears again in Webber's drawings in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, and in the National Library of Australia, Canberra (Joppien and Smith, 3.215-7).

Cook spent four weeks at Nootka Sound (King George's Sound), Vancouver Island, on the northwest coast of America between 29 March and 26 April 1778. He had sailed for the northwest coast of America from the Society Islands (Tahitian islands) in the South Pacific at the end of 1777, only to discover the Hawaiian islands en route, in January 1778. He left the Hawaiian islands for the American continent on 2 February, and Nootka Sound was his first and necessary landfall for fresh water and repairs to the Resolution's foremast, before he sailed north in search of the northwest Passage. 'The expedition anchored in Nootka Sound on the Pacific side of Vancouver Island in late March 1778, where they would remain for about a month, Cook's visit constituted the first lengthy meeting between European whites and the inhabitants of the region. For Cook and Webber, the changes in climate, protocol, and topography were as radical as they were remarkable: several accounts note the desolation of the rocky coast line, and Cook recorded days of incessant rain, cold and fog, all the more notable after almost two years in the Southern Hemisphere.' (W. Hauptman, John Webber 1751-1793 Pacific Voyager and Landscape Artist, Bern, 1996, p.151). Hauptman goes on to discuss this same scene (referring to the watercolour in the British Museum): 'This sharply defined landscape, in which Webber relies heavily on the definition of forms through the use of the pen, is one of his most accomplished studies from this portion of the trip. Although a hint of the harshness of this area is recorded in his earlier view of the Resolution and the Discovery at dock, this study confirms the literary descriptions of the area by Cook's crew as severe and inhospitable. All noted that the high precipices and chasms descending directly to the shore line created an especially jagged flow to the land that gave it "a melancholy appearance." The turbulent weather was also commented on repeatedly, with descriptions of fallen trees "mutilated by the rough Gales," which duly appear in Webber's drawing, emphasizing the stark contrast to the placid tropical scenes he painted only months before. The rudeness of the climate even in the spring is also indicated in the garments of the figures which Cook described in detail.' (W. Hauptman, op. cit., p.154)

The scene depicted by Webber here was identified by Richard Inglis in his chapter 'Encounters. View of the Indigenous People of Nootka Sound from the Cook Expedition Records' in J. K. Barnett and D.L. Nicandri (eds), Arctic Ambitions Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage, Seattle and London, 2015, p.134: 'This image [referring to the British Museum watercolour] likely depicts the waterfront on the southwest side of Ship Cove. The figure is shown kneeling and filling a cup from the stream that was known as the watering place [in the plans of Indian Cove drawn by Thomas Edgar, the master of Discovery, National Archives, Kew, ADM 55/21 f.153] ... In a later painting, Webber completely changed the ensemble of the people, replacing the man with the spear with a figure wearing a chief's hat and carrying a bow and a quiver for arrows. The rugged, rocky, and pine-covered landscape in late winter would have been a massive shock to the senses of the explorers who had spent the previous year in Polynesia.'

Cook described the visit in his journal: 'Sunday 29th. At length at 9 oclock in the Morning of the 29th as we were standing to the NE we again saw the land ... The Country had a very different aspect to what we had before seen, it was full of high Mountains whose summits were covered with snow; but the Vallies between them and the land on the sea Coast, high as well as low, was cloathed with wood. ... As we drew nearer the Coast we perceived the appearance of two inlets one in the NW and the other in the NE corner of the bay. As I could not fetch the first I bore up for the latter ... We no sooner drew near the inlet than we found the coast to be inhabited and the people came off to the Ships in Canoes without shewing the least mark of fear or distrust. We had at one time thirty two Canoes filled with people about us, and a groupe of ten or a dozen remained along side the Resolution most part of the night. ... A great many Canoes filled with the Natives were about the Ships all day, and a trade commenced betwixt us and them, which was carried out with Strictest honisty on boath sides. Their articles were the Skins of various animals, such as Bears, Wolfs, Foxes, Deer, Rackoons, Polecats, Martins and in particular the Sea Beaver, the same that is found on the coast of Kamtchatka. Cloathing is made of these skins and a nother sort made, either of the bark of a tree or some plant like hemp; Weapons, such as Bows and Arrows, Spears, Fish hooks and Instruments of various kinds, pieces of carved work and even human sculs and hands, and a variety of little articles too tedious to mention. For these things they took in exchange, Knives, chissels, pieces of iron & Tin, Nails, Buttons, or any kind of metal. ... The inlet I honoured with the name of King George's Sound, but its name, with the Natives, is Nookka. ... The Cove in which we lay is on the East side of the Sound, and on the East side of Great Island; it is covered from the Sea but has little else to recommend it, being exposed to the SE winds which we found to blow with great Violence and the devastation they sometimes make was apparent in many places. The land boardering upon the Sea coast is of middling height and level, but about the Sound it consi[s]ts of high hills and deep Vallies, for the most part cloathed with large timber, such as Spruce fir and white Cedar.

'I can form no estimate of the number of Inhabitants that may be in this Sound, they however appeared to be pretty numerous. ... Their Cloaths are made of the Skins of land and Sea animals, in the making of which there is very little of either art or trouble, besides that of dressing the Skins and Sewing them together for they do no more than form them into a kind of Cloak which is tied over the shoulders with a string and reaches as low as the knees. Besides these skin dresses which are cheifly worn by the men, they have others made of two or three kinds of cloth one of which is made of the bark of the Pine tree which they have a method of preparing so as to look like Coarse hemp ... For a head dress they have a strong straw hat which is shaped like a flower-pot and is a good a covering for the head as can possibly be invented. ... Both men and women paint their faces, their colours are black red and white and seemed to be a kind of ochre mixed with oil ... Their weapons are bows and Arrows, Slings, Spears, short truncheons made either of wood stone or bone ... The spear has generally a long bone point, some of the arrows were pointed with iron but in general the points were of indented bone.'

J.C. Beaglehole (ed.), The Journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery. The voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776-1780, Woodbridge, 1999, III, part one, pp.294-320.
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