London: G. Carter, 1784? Proof. A proof after letters of the most beautiful depiction of the death of Captain James Cook.
The artist, George Carter, was not an eyewitness to the events in Hawaii, but his imagery and care in reconstructing the event places it as the most moving depiction of the event. Long a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy and an accomplished portrait and historical painter, the tragedy of Cook's death on 14 February 1779 was an ideal subject for his talents. His depiction is vivid, showing Cook standing on the shoreline facing his attackers, holding his rifle as a club. The detailed portraits of the Hawaiians and the English seaman are done with great intensity and variety and number more than 30 individuals. In this effort, he was aided by John Hall, who engraved the portrait of Cook, and the other figures were engraved by I. Thornthwaite. The landscape was engraved by S. Smith.
Carter painted the image in 1781 and helped to produce the print with the print makers Sayer and Bennet in 1784. The publishing line reads, "London, Published as the Act Directs by G. Carter of Margaret St. ... Cavendish Square and Messrs. Sayer & Bennet in Fleet St." The artist and engravers line, while somewhat indistinct, follows this - "G. Carter pinxit; S. Smith engraved the Landscape; J. Hall engraved the Portrait of Captain Cook; the figures by I. Thornthwaite."
We believe this image to be a proof for the following reasons- the simplified design of type used in the engraving of the title; the text of the publishing information matching that of the 1st edition but without the date of Jany. 1st, 1784; the text of the artist/engravers line matching that of the 1st edition, but appearing very faintly; the intensity of the image and a faint "Pr....." in the bottom right margin of the print.
The style of type used for the title is distinctly different than the first edition, which was published "Jany. 1st, 1784." In this edition, the engraving of the title is quite unsophisticated, and differs from the first edition significantly, which is more highly decorated, with four or five hatch marks on the letters DEATH, JAMES and COOK. The style of this print's title matches that of a copy held in the British Museum. (Call #Oc2006,Prt.140). Unfortunately, the BM print is missing the publishing line and much of the bottom margin. The State Library of New South Wales holds the first edition, with the publishing line identical to this print, with the publishing date of Jany. 1st, 1784 (Call # a1528432). The copy held by the National Library of Australia (PIC Drawer 7452 #U3051 NK4835) erroneously states that their print is a first edition; the publication line reads "Published 18th April, 1791, by ROBT. SAYER, No. 53, Fleet Street, London.
The presence of a faint "Pr....." in the bottom right margin confirms our suspicions.
Beddie lists 5 issues of the print. These vary slightly in the size of the printed image and publication dates. This copy of the image measures 16 7/8 x 23 1/4". However, slight variations in measuring devices could account for some of these differences and we don't regard the measurements as definitive of one edition over another.
Beddie 2566 Jany 1st, 1784, 16 3/4 x 23 3/8";
Beddie 2567 Feby 1 1784, 17 x 23 1/2";
Beddie 2568 as 'another' measuring 16 3/4 x 23 1/4;
Beddie 2569 'The Same' publish'd 12 May 1794 by Laurie & Whittle, 16 15/16 x 23 7/16"; Beddie 2570 'The Same', Proof before letters, 16 15/16 x 23 7/16".
Image size 16 7/8 x 23 1/4". Small margins, trimmed within the plate mark, laid on archival tissue, some small sections of margin on the right side added but not affecting the printed surface, title engraved in an unsophisticated style, the publication line a bit rubbed and trimmed close, the artist/ engravers line indistinct but not rubbed. No publication date listed after Fleet St. (the 1st edition was published with the date Jany. 1st 1784 after "Fleet St.".
A proof copy of a print that is a notable rarity. Item #22657