Encounters with Hawai‘i: Art in an Age of Exploration, 1778–1820

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    Louis Choris (Russian, 1795–1828). A Temple in the Sandwich Islands, c. 1819. Watercolor with ink and opaque white highlights. 6 5/8 x 12 inches (16.8 x 20.5 cm). Gift of the Honolulu Art Society, 1944 (12160a).

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    John Webber (English, 1751–1793). A Native of the Island of Mangea (A Native of Atooi), Waimea, Kauai, Hawaiian Islands, January 1778, 1778. Graphite and sepia wash on paper. 10 9/16 x 7 7/8 inches (26.8 x 20 cm). Partial purchase and partial gift of Firs

  • Exhib_slideshow_exhibition_artinageofexploration_webber2

    John Webber (English, 1751–1793). Kealakekua Bay and the Village “KOWROOA,” 1779. Pen, ink, wash and watercolor. 10 ¼ x 21 5/8 inches (26 x 54.9 cm). Purchase, 1992 (21486).

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June 27, 2014 - February 08, 2015
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

This exhibition brings together artwork associated with the European navigational voyages of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These lengthy expeditions explored and charted the lands that dotted the Pacific, and they carried with them painters, draftsmen, scientists, and cartographers, who documented the flora, fauna, terrain, and inhabitants of the distant lands they encountered. The drawings, paintings, and prints they generated comprise the earliest visual record of Hawai‘i.

The exhibition begins with the British painter and draftsman John Webber, who traveled with Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage, from 1776 to 1780. This expedition brought Cook and his crew to Hawai‘i, and Webber, as its official artist, pictured their experiences and discoveries in an elaborate series of drawings and watercolors, which were published to illustrate the official narrative of Cook’s travels.

Subsequent trips brought additional artists—most notably the Russian Louis Choris and the Frenchman Jacques Arago—who depicted Hawaiian religion and customs before and shortly after the fall of the kapu system. Taken together, these works reflect an era of great curiosity about the world and its inhabitants, and in their time popularized Hawai‘i for audiences well beyond its shores.