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The Astrolabe under the command of Jules-Sébastian-César Dumont d’Urville departed from France on 28 March 1826, returning on 1 April 1829. Amongst other places the voyage took in the western, southern and eastern coasts of Australia (referred to as Nouvelle Hollande), the upper South Island and east coast of New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Just over two months of the expedition were spent in New Zealand, from 10 January 1827 when landfall was made off the West Coast to 19 March when the ship set sail from the Bay of Islands for Tonga.
De Sainson as official artist to the voyage made numerous illustrations, as described by his Captain on return to France ‘His portfolio contains no fewer than 182 views, landscapes, scenes and pictures; 153 portraits, 112 plates of dwellings, monuments, costumes, arms and utensils, and 45 coastal profiles, sketches of trees, etc.’ (Collins, 1997, p.13) From these, selections were made for the Atlas Pittoresque to accompany the official account, which included 32 illustrations of New Zealand.
While the publishing model for voyages of exploration of the Captain’s official account and an atlas of illustrations was established by Cook’s third expedition, the Atlas to the Voyage de la corvette l’Astrolabe was unique in that it was the first such publication to use lithography to reproduce the plates. Indeed this innovative usage of the, relatively new, medium was used to promote the publication in its Prospectus.
Academic Roger Collins recognises the skill of the lithographers involved in the project, remarking that de Sainson’s original sketches demonstrate he ‘was not an outstanding draftsman’. Indeed his ‘reputation owes much to the skills of his interpreters.’ (Collins, 1991, p23)
[15.] Le Chef Palou, recevant les Officiers de l'Etat-major de l'Astrolabe (Tonga-Tabou), plate 68
Due to the perilous circumstances that marked the start of their stay in Tonga – the Astrolabe stranded on the reef for four days, coming very close to shipwreck – d’Urville quickly made alliances with the local chiefs. Thankfully, disaster was averted and he did not need to call upon their support, but he did keep up his acquaintances during their stay. D’Urville and his staff officers are shown here being received by Chief Palou. The officers dressed in full uniform for the occasion and were somewhat disappointed by the reception they were given. It transpired that one of Palou’s children had just died and another was gravely ill. D’Urville was uncharacteristically insensitive to the situation, recording ‘Despite our ravenous hunger, dinner was a long time coming. At last a very large pig was brought and roasted in the island manner. Unfortunately the cooks had been in a hurry and the pig was only half cooked … As soon as we had allayed our hunger we bade goodbye to Palou, taking with us our poor opinion of his hospitality.’
- Le Chef Palou, recevant les Officiers de l'Etat-major de l'Astrolabe (Tonga-Tabou)
- Production date
- 326 x 495 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010
- Accession no
- Copyright Expired
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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