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John Webber, The Island of Pulo Condore

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

We were thrilled back in 2016 to acquire this magnificent drawing by the artist John Webber (1751-1791), who served as the official artist on Captain Cook's final voyage from 1776 to 1780 and proved so capable of capturing the essence of people, places, and events throughout the epic four-year journey. This blog piece is intended to provide a little more consideration of an important work by Webber.

In this particular image, titled "A View in Pulo Condore," Webber transports us to the island of Pulo Condore, known today as Con Son, situated off the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. We are immediately captivated by the scene before us. With youthful confidence, a young boy leads a magnificent buffalo towards a thatched hut. Towering above the hut are majestic palms, exuding an exotic aura that immerses us in the tropical paradise depicted by Webber.

As we explore the canvas further, we see a backdrop of lush, forested hills, cascading across the paper and drawing us towards a distant view of hills across the inlet. Webber expertly transports us back to the 18th century, allowing us to experience something of the same sense of wonder and delight that viewers of that time felt when looking at such tropical scenes.

The painting also depicts an historical moment during Captain Cook's Third Voyage. During this leg of the voyage back, the two ships made a crucial stop at Pulo Condore in order to replenish their supplies before navigating the Strait of Sunda. By pausing briefly at Krakatoa and bypassing the fever-ridden port of Batavia, the sailors safeguarded their health and charted a homeward course across the Indian Ocean.

Webber himself had accompanied Captain King on an excursion across the island. They were met with cultivated rice, tobacco fields, and groves of magnificent cabbage-palm and coconut trees. Their encounters took a slightly more alarming turn when they encountered a group of buffalo. However, the situation was defused by local boys who controlled the powerful beasts by placing a rope through their nostrils. The voyagers bought eight buffaloes to add to their stores of food.

Ultimately, "Pulo Condore Revealed" is not merely a painting but a portal that transports us to a time of exploration and cultural exchange. It is a tangible link to the voyages, discoveries, and encounters that shaped our understanding of the world during that era. It brings us a little closer to the artistic talent of John Webber and adds a piece to the historical narrative of Captain Cook's final voyage.

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

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