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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN

1782
John Webber

oil on canvas (frame: 140.4 cm x 115.8 cm depth 9.5 cm, support: 114.3 cm x 89.7 cm)

James Cook (1728–1779), maritime explorer, closed the yawning gap in the map of New Holland when he sailed up its east coast between April and August 1770 during the first of three voyages to the Pacific. He made meticulous charts of the bays, rivers and islands he passed, and gave the name New South Wales to the eastern seaboard of the continent. Cook was almost continually at sea between 1768 and 1779, scrutinising vast areas that had previously been only tentatively investigated, and ultimately effecting world-changing consequences for the First Nations peoples and cultures of the entire Pacific region. Accounts produced from his voyages provided Europeans with their first glimpse of the culture, wildlife and geography of lands as diverse as Tahiti and Alaska.

Twenty-four when he was offered the opportunity to join Cook's third voyage, artist John Webber left Plymouth in July 1776. Between this time and his return to England in 1780, Webber made about 200 drawings and watercolours of topographical, natural history and ethnographic subjects, many of which were engraved for the three-volume account of the voyage published in 1784. He made at least four portraits of Cook, including this work, which was completed from memory in London three years after Cook's death in Hawaii in February 1779.

Purchased by the Commonwealth Government with the generous assistance of Robert Oatley AO and John Schaeffer AO 2000

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
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Audio description

2 minutes 24 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

John Webber (age 31 in 1782)

Captain James Cook RN

Supported by

Mr Robert Oatley AO (7 portraits supported)

John Schaeffer AO (2 portraits supported)

Commonwealth of Australia (1 portrait supported)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Captain James Cook RN
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN
Portrait of Captain James Cook RN

Unbuttoning uniforms

Magazine article by Sharon Peoples, 2017

Sharon Peoples contemplates costumes and the construction of identity.

William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes
William Bligh by John Webber video: 2 minutes

William Bligh

by John Webber

Portrait story

Twice rebelled against, and twice vindicated, William Bligh occupies an ambivalent space in Australian history. Angus Trumble, former Director of the National Portrait Gallery, explains.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency