The Death Of Cook by Johann Zoffany

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The Death Of Cook by Johann Zoffany

Painting NameThe Death Of Cook
Painter NameJohann Zoffany
Size136.906 x 182.88 cm (53.9" x 72")
Current LocationPrivate collection

Captain James Cook. We have heard this name for umpteen times in history periods, books and in historical references. He was the first circumnavigator of New Zealand, gave detailed maps of Newfoundland and the very first voyager to reach Australia and Hawaiian Islands.  We know him as the great explorer of 18th century who ultimately sacrificed his life during such expedition. Johann Zoffany has painted Cook’s very last moments in this painting.

This is an unfinished painting. As we can see that the scenery in background is very plain-looking and the people on the right-hand rock are just shadowy figures without much details inserted. Though, the foreground seems completed with sufficient details.

We can see Captain Cook in the foreground lying on the ground surrounded by two Hawaiians, one allegedly stabbing a combat-knife in his back and other proceeding to stab another. Captain Cook doesn’t seem able to raise his gun again as his mouth has fell open in agony. We can see a little hint of victorious smile on the second Hawaiian as he is proceeding, knowing that the head of the enemy has fell down and will not be able to stand again.

On the left, cook’s colleagues are still fighting with the attackers, but are outnumbered. We can see the fear the kneeled soldier is facing while a ruthless Hawaiian is attacking on him. The soldier just beside him, is he trying to escape? Well, maybe. Because, there is no Hawaiian attacking on him currently and still he seems like running away from the scene.

On the right, where the painting is unfinished, figures are gathered around one body which is sat on a rock and seems dead. He could be the lesser chief Hawaiian who was shot to death. Or it could be any other important personality of the island as the scene is not so clear.

The little mob in the background on the high-rock, we can’t interpret it correctly, but best guest could be that some of them are from Cook’s crew and others Hawaiians are pushing them against the cliff. Nothing could be so sure about the background though.

We don’t know the exact reason why Zoffany left this oil-on-canvas painting unfinished, but it is apparent that this could be his one of the prominent works.



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