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Death of Captain Cook, 14 February 1779

Date: 20th century
Dimensions:
Overall: 105 x 150 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Posters and postcards
Object Name: Postcard
Object No: 00000376
Place Manufactured:London

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    Description
    A postcard featuring Johann Zoffany's unfinished painting 'Death of Captain Cook, 14 February 1779'.
    SignificanceThe death of Captain Cook was a seminal event in British maritime history. His reputation and prestige had been well established in his lifetime and his was seen as a national tragedy that was commemorated in many different ways.
    HistoryWhile the death of Captain James Cook in Hawaii in 1779 bought to an end the life of a great explorer and seaman, it saw the beginning of the creation of a British hero. Cooks' death was lamented by the nation and become the topic for plays, poems and extensive coverage in the press. The tragic circumstances of his death on Hawaii served to fuel the notion of Cook as heroic martyr and he was regularly portrayed as the victim to the perceived uncivilised forces of the Pacific countries he had 'discovered'.
    Zoffany, it is said, a follower of the theatre, began painting his version of the event in around 1789. The painting facilitates the idea of Cook as the fallen hero, bathed in light, with the drama of conflict swirling around him. Stylized outfits abound and the Indigenous Hawaiian are portrayed in as much a clichéd form as Cook himself. The idea of the 'Noble Savage" was still popular and here Zoffany highlights this by the use of traditional accessories such as the feathered helmet and cape which although Hawaiian in origin, bring to mind the clothing of Classical Greek or Roman soldiers.

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