It’s autumn, 1773. Captain James Cook’s ship Resolution is anchored at Tamatea, Fiordland. Artist William Hodges joins an expedition to explore the inlet. With him is Georg Forster, son of the ship's naturalist.
Hodges makes his sketches. And in his journal, Forster describes the day like this.
We set out in two boats, with the captain and several officers, to examine a long inlet which ran eastward, in sight of our cove … The interior ranges of mountains, called the Southern Alps, appeared very distinctly, of a great height, and covered with snow on their summits.
We passed by a number of shady islands, which contained little coves and riverlets; and on one of the projecting points, opposite the last island, we saw a fine cascade falling into the water, over steep rock, clothed with thick bushes and trees.
The water was perfectly calm, polished, and transparent; the landscape was distinctly reflected in it, and the various romantic shapes of the steep mountains, contrasted in different masses of light and shade, had an admirable effect.
This isn’t just the first professional western landscape painting of Aotearoa – it’s also the first to depict southern Māori tīpuna. The double-hulled waka you can see here is authentic, even if it wasn’t there on the day the sketches were done.
Hodges’ experience of this place, reflected in landscapes such as this, gave rise to European imaginings of Aotearoa as a place of scenic wonder and a land of plenty.
How do we see ourselves in relation to the land? What ideas or meanings are embedded in these landscapes?
We’ll explore these questions as we move through this exhibition – Hiahia Whenua | Landscape and Desire.