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Omai (c.1753-c.1780), or Mai, joined the crew of HMS Adventure under Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 as a supernumerary under the pseudonym Tetuby Homey. In this capacity he travelled to Great Britain, arriving in 1774. Omai was only the second Pacific Islander to travel to Europe after his fellow Tahitian Aotourou who visited France in 1769 in the company of the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. In London Omai was the darling of high society, being taken under the wing of Joseph Banks and introduced to court circles and even King George III. Highly regarded by the British elite for his natural grace, Omai was a tangible example of the ‘noble savage’ then popular in European thought. In 1777 he was returned to the Pacific by Captain James Cook on the third of his Pacific voyages. Settling on Huahine in a European-style house constructed by Cook’s crew, Omai appears to have died of natural causes approximately three years later.
Francesco Bartolozzi’s print shows Omai standing swathed in light-coloured fabric. In his right hand he holds a feather gorget, while over his left arm he holds a head rest which may have doubled as a stool. Unlike Sir Joshua Reynolds’ more famous painting of Omai, in which the sitter’s features have been idealised and the whole cast in a Neoclassical light (including a pose derived from the Apollo Belvedere), Nathaniel Dance painted the subject as he was recorded elsewhere, paying particular attention to the ethnographic artefacts, the tattoos on his hands and the broad nose which is seen in the portraits by Hodges and William Parry.
- Omai a Native of Ulaietea
- Production date
- etching, stipple and engraving
- 465 x 291 mm
- Credit line
- Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2014
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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