William Hodges (After), William Woollett (Lithographer), William Strahan (Publisher)

Monuments in Easter Island

Monuments in Easter Island by William Hodges, William Woollett, William Strahan

Artwork Detail

William Hodges was a late addition to the crew of James Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific. He replaced painter Johann Zoffany, who was to be part of Joseph Banks’s entourage of 13; Banks’s group failed to accompany the voyage as they could not all be accommodated on board ship. Hodges was engaged by the Admiralty as a landscape painter and charged with ‘making Drawings or Paintings of such Places as you may touch at that may be worthy of notice in the course of your Voyage as also of such other Objects and things as may fall within the Compass of his Abilities’ (Joppien and Smith, vol II, p 3). In contrast to his predecessors on Cook’s first voyage, Hodges was not primarily concerned in recording ethnographic detail, rather his interest was in the overall effect.

Cook and his crew were fascinated and perplexed by the monuments on Easter Island. The human remains they found at the sites added to this and there was much speculation about the purpose of the monuments and how they came to be built. The idea that they were ‘looked upon as idols’ was rejected in favour of the theory they were burying places.

This print depicts a lone Easter Islander in the middle distance dwarfed by the remains of two of these monuments. In the foreground a skeleton is depicted from the ribs up, positioned rather bizarrely as if bowing in prayer. The sparse foliage hints at the deforestation and barren nature of the island. Despite the presence of an Islander, the toppled and overgrown monuments combined with the skeletal remains give the impression that the civilisation pictured is in decline.

Monuments in Easter Island
William Hodges, William Woollett, William Strahan
Production date
217 x 379 mm
Credit line
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2010
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
New Zealand Art
Display status
Not on display

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