Friday lates: Pacific portraits - British artists, Pacific sitters and their impact on 18th century portraiture

Course Dates: 21/06/24
Time: 18:00 - 20:00
Location: Online
From Joshua Reynold's portrait of Omai to portraits made during the voyages of Captain James Cook, discover how encounters with Pacific Islanders changed the course of British eighteenth-century.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Friday lates: Pacific portraits - British artists, Pacific sitters and their impact on 18th century portraiture
  • Course Code: VB981
  • Dates: 21/06/24 - 21/06/24
  • Time: 18:00 - 20:00
  • Taught: Fri, Evening
  • Duration: 1 session
  • Location: Online

Course Code: VB981

Fri, eve, 21 Jun - 21 Jun '24

Duration: 1 session

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Centre for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

‘By far the most significant acquisition the National Portrait Gallery has ever made,’ is how the gallery’s director views their recent purchase of Joshua Reynolds’ painting Omai of the Friendly Islands (1776).

This lecture will consider the importance of Reynolds’s masterpiece. We will examine the life of its subject, Mai, as he is known to us today, the first Polynesian visitor to Britain. We will also look at the painting in relation to other portrayals of Pacific people from this time, particularly those made during the voyages of Captain James Cook and, after him, Captain Matthew Flinders. We will think about how and where these portraits were displayed, both in Britain and in the Pacific. As diplomatic gifts, what role did these works play in helping to strengthen relations between British and Pacific Island elites? What responses did they elicit? How did these encounters between British artists and Pacific sitters affect the course of eighteenth-century portrait painting more broadly?

This short course will be delivered by Dr Ben Pollitt. Ben Pollitt completed his PhD at UCL in 2020. His thesis looked at the Pacific images of John Webber, the artist who accompanied James Cook’s third voyage. He has been the recipient of a Postdoctoral Paul Mellon Fellowship and a Caird Research Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum. As well as teaching at City Lit, Ben is a lecturer at UCL and the Courtauld Institute of Art. His research focuses on sympathy, empire, and transoceanic encounters in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His work has been published in several scholarly journals, including The Art Bulletin and Third Text. Ben is the co-editor of the ‘Decolonial Imaginaire’ forum for Third Text.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

- The biography of Mai, the Raiatean explorer.
- The history of Reynolds’s painting of him.
- An introduction to Georgian portraiture.
- An introduction to the art of Cook’s and Flinders’ voyages.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Understand how Reynolds’s portrait of Mai helped to advance his career as a portrait painter.
- Identify the works of the artists who accompanied the voyages of Captain James Cook and Captain Matthew Flinders.
- Discuss the extent to which portraiture is a genre that speaks across cultures and, if so, what power does it have to shape those cultures.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is open to all. You should be able to operate basic elements of Zoom, e.g. microphone, camera and log in.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

You will be taught with lecture and slide presentation. This course does not include an active discussion element, but there will be time for Q&A at the end of the session.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

There are no additional costs.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Search for 'Friday Lates' to see all of the talks on offer in the coming year.

We’re sorry. We don’t have a bio ready for the tutor of this class at the moment, but we’re working on it! Watch this space.