John Webber's South Sea drawings for the admiralty: a newly discovered catalogue among the papers of Sir Joseph Banks
THE Department of Manuscripts in the British Library, a treasure-house of many little-known works of art which one might not expect to find there, preserves more than 150 drawings and water-colours by the British artist John Webber (1750 93). The late Martin Hardie, a connoisseur of the British water-colour school, praised Webber as a 'good draughtsman and a delicate colourist' but, in spite of this favourable view, Webber's work has remained largely unknown to art historians and has never been properly examined. This may have been due to the fact that Webber's work requires rather specialized attention. Webber was the official draughtsman on Captain Cook's third voyage to the Pacific (1776-80); this had a very direct bearing upon his development as an artist and on his choice of subject-matter. Webber was present when Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and explored the north-west coast of America; for the period of four years he recorded places which no artist before him had seen. It seems that the works from this voyage exceed in number those which Webber produced during his later travels in Great Britain and Europe.