Omai, A Native of Ulaietea.

London: Publish'd according to Act of Parlt. 25th October 1774.

Etching and stipple engraving, 540 x 330 mm.; framed.

The ideal image of the "Noble Savage"

A wonderful full-length portrait of Omai (also known as "Mai"), the Tahitian who was seen as an outstanding example of Rousseau's noble savage when he arrived in England on the Adventure with Captain Furneaux in 1774. The portrait is based on the painting by Nathaniel Dance, who would later also paint Captain Cook. Omai is shown carrying the wooden pillow-stool now in the Musée de Tahiti et des Iles. With a feathered circlet and draped in tapa cloth and with tattooed hands he embodies the beauty of the newly discovered Pacific islanders.

A wonderful full-length portrait of Omai (also known as "Mai"), the Tahitian who was seen as an outstanding example of Rousseau's noble savage when he arrived in England on the Adventure with Captain Furneaux in 1774. The portrait is based on the painting by Nathaniel Dance, who would later also paint Captain Cook. Omai is shown carrying the wooden pillow-stool now in the Musée de Tahiti et des Iles. With a feathered circlet and draped in tapa cloth and with tattooed hands he embodies the beauty of the newly discovered Pacific islanders.

Joseph Banks so admired Dance's painting that he personally commissioned Bartolozzi to do the engraving. Dance's portrait is the best known of the many images of the famous Tahitian, who was placed in the care of Joseph Banks and Dr Solander when he arrived in England, both of whom he remembered from their visit to Tahiti five years earlier on Cook's first voyage. His natural grace captivated London society, and the fine portrait epitomised the eighteenth-century ideal of the noble South Sea islander.

Bartolozzi was born in Florence in 1727 and after studying drawing moved to Venice specifically to pursue his interest in engraving. He arrived in London in 1764 and was quickly appointed "Engraver to the King". Remaining in London for the next forty years Bartolozzi was a founding member of the Royal Academy from 1768.

This handsome and romantic portrait is testament to the contemporary interest in Omai, and was one of the first large-scale and separately-issued images that were produced to satisfy European curiosity and to advance anthropological interest in the peoples of the Pacific.

This tradition of taking exotic natives of interest back to Europe really took hold with the voyagers of the second half of the eighteenth century, most famously with Bougainville and Cook (though nearly a hundred years earlier Dampier had taken Giolo, the "Painted Prince", back to England with him) and continued well into the nineteenth century.

The four-line inscription mentions both Furneaux and, particularly, Lord Sandwich of the Admiralty, who was Omai's great friend and protector during his two-year stay in England.

Francesco Bartolozzi was renowned throughout Europe for his technique of "stippled" engravings, of which this is a fine example.

Beddie, 4569; Nan Kivell and Spence, p. 238 (illustrated, p. 75).

Price (AUD): $11,500.00  other currencies     Ref: #3904130

Condition Report