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Bougainville at Tahiti

Date: c 1930
Overall: 2100 x 2800 mm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Painting
Object No: 00000921
Related Place:Taïti,

User Terms

    French explorer Louis Antione de Bougainville's vessels LA BOUDEUSE and L'ETOILE are shown here being welcomed ashore at Tahiti by the Polynesians in 1768. Bougainville was in command of the first French expedition to the Pacific sent to discover and claim new territories for France. There were no official artists on board and few pictorial records were produced of the voyage. The 20th century artist Gustave Alaux based this painting on his own knowledge of the Pacific and written records about Bougainville's landing.
    SignificanceThis large historical painting represents French exploration of the Pacific by the explorer Bougainville in 1766-1769. Bougainville's account of Tahiti described the most pure untouched civilisation any European had yet seen. His narrative helped establish the myth of the 'noble savage' and Tahiti’s reputation as a paradise.
    HistoryLouis Antione de Bougainville was given command of the frigate LA BOUDEUSE and left Nantes, France in November 1766 for the Falkland Islands. Here he was to collect the store ship L'ETOILE and conduct the first French expedition to circumnavigate the world and explore the Pacific. Bougainville set out from Montevideo, Uruguay in 1767 in command of LA BOUDEUSE and L'ETOILE and crossed the Pacific, exploring and claiming Tahiti, Samoa and the New Hebrides for France.

    In 1768 the French were greeted with a warm reception at Tahiti and Bougainville described as they 'came nearer the shore, the number of islanders surrounding our ships increased. The Periaguas (dugout canoe) were numerous all about the ships, that we had much to do to work in amidst the crowd of boats and the noise. All these people came crying out Tayo, which means friendship, and gave a thousand signs of friendship'.

    While in Tahiti the French traded caps, handkerchiefs, nails and earrings for food, coconuts, fowls, pigeons, water and wood. Sex was also a commodity between the Tahitian women and the French sailors, and unfortunately an epidemic of venereal disease broke out as a consequence.

    Bougainville's account of Tahiti offered a romantic description of a place full of 'hospitality, ease, innocent joy and every appearance of happiness'. His journal notes were preoccupied with the apparent sexual openness of the Tahitians whom he said 'pressed us to choose a woman, and to come in shore with her, and their gestures which were nothing less than equivocal denoted in what manner we should form an acquaintance with her. It was very difficult, amongst such a sight to keep at their work four hundred French sailors, who had seen no women for six months'.

    After leaving Tahiti and sailing further south on 4 June 1768 Bougainville's ships nearly wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef, possibly at Bougainville Reef near Cooktown. The French captain did not continue to investigate the Australian coast but sailed north to New Guinea instead. They began their return journey and reached Saint-Malo, France on 16 March 1769.

    The discoveries Bougainville made on this expedition were not particularly new but he was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe. The voyage resulted in the publication of 'Voyage autour du monde, par la Fregate du Roi la Boudeuse et la Flute L'etoile' (A Voyage round the world by the King's frigate LA BOUDEUSE and the store ship ETOILE), a popular account of the day.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Bougainville auf Tahiti

    Assigned title: Bougainville op Tahiti

    Primary title: Bougainville at Tahiti

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