William Ellis, A view of Discovery Island [Mangianooa]
Our most recent acquisition (March 2020) is a previously unknown watercolour painting by William Ellis from Cook’s third voyage.
William Ellis (1751-1784) was a crew member as Surgeon’s second mate on Captain Cook’s third voyages. He was also a gifted amateur artist and this is seen in many sketches of plants, birds and locations.
This painting is what is known as a running coastal profile, in other words a sketch taken of a coastline while the ship was passing in order to complement any chart and help later mariners recognise the main features of that particular shore. Coastal profiles were often included in published versions of charts. Until cartographers could accurately calculate longitude, islands might be found, but then lost again, to be ‘re-discovered’ and given a different name.
While interest often centres on the more exotic locations, the business of the voyage was above all to chart unknown places in a vast ocean. This picture is an example of the results of the workaday business of the ship and crew, in which others besides the maritime cartographers and officially appointed artist might be involved.
We are enormously grateful to the Normanby Trust, The Art Fund and the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, whose support enabled us to acquire this painting