Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Death of Captain Cook

Most Captain Cook fans recognize John Webber's illustration of the captain's last moments at Kealakekua Bay. But is it accurate?
In Tony Horwitz's Blue Latitudes, the author meets Herb Kane, a renowned artist who resides just up the hill from Cook's last stand. Kane apparently used a combination of first hand accounts, and science, to create a more precise and accurate depiction of the macabre scene.

Because Cook's decision to go on land was last minute, he was most likely wearing utilitarian canvas trousers rather than the showy breeches and hose depicted in Webber's iconic drawing. Scientists estimate that the coastline has subsided by 28 inches in the 200 years since Cook's death. Kane snorkeled the coastline to record the correct contour in 1779. He then calculated the phase of the moon and tide at the time of the killing, 8 a.m., and added these details to his work.

The details and precise calculations translate fantastically onto the painting, as these close-ups show.
I am left speechless every time I study this picture....


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