John Webber, The Island of Pulo Condore

Pen and grey ink and watercolour over pencil

We are particularly delighted to have acquired this painting by John Webber (1751-1791), the official artist on Captain Cook's final voyage (1776-1780). Webber was charged with recording people, places and events during the four year long voyage, with the intention that many would be used as the basis for engravings in the official account of the voyage.

Pulo Condore, now known as Con Son, lies off the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. The picture shows a boy leading a buffalo towards a thatched native hut with exotic palms towering over it, and a background of forested hills tumbling across the paper towards the distant view of hills across the inlet. The scene is typical of Webber's depiction of tropical scenes which delighted 18th century viewers. It was also engraved and included in Webber’s posthumously published Views in the South Seas, 1809.

The painting depicts a moment in the Third Voyage when the two ships stopped at Pulo Condore to refresh their supplies. This allowed them to sail through the Strait of Sunda, pausing only briefly at Krakatoa, and avoiding the fever-ridden port of Batavia (modern Jakarta) before heading homewards across the Indian Ocean.

Webber accompanied Captain King on an excursion across the island, past 'cultivated spots of rice and tobacco, and groves of cabbage-palm trees, and cocoa-nut trees. We here spied two huts, situated on the edge of the wood'. At one point the visitors were threatened by buffaloes, which were pacified by boys who put a rope through their nostrils, as appears in the painting. The voyagers also bought some eight buffaloes as supplies for the ships' crews.

Acquired 2016 with the help of The Art Fund, ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Normanby Trust and a private donor