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Object: Poedua [Poetua], daughter of Oreo, chief of Ulaietea, one of the Society Isles

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Title Poedua [Poetua], daughter of Oreo, chief of Ulaietea, one of the Society Isles
Production Webber, John (artist), 1785
Medium summary oil on canvas
Classification oil paintings, portraits
Dimensions Image: 1445mm (Height) x 925mm (Width)
Frame: 1660mm (Height) x 1160mm (Width) x 90mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 2010
Registration number 2010-0029-1

John Webber’s Poedua [Poetua], daughter of Oreo, chief of Ulaietea, one of the Society Isles, was the first great portrait of an indigenous woman of the South Pacific presented to a European audience. It is now considered to be one of Webber’s most significant works, described as without doubt Webber’s ‘… most serene painting, perhaps the most arrestingly beautiful portrait that any Cook artist produced.' The portrait’s significance extends beyond its art historical value, for it is also a record of a clash of cultures that resulted from an early encounter between European explorers and the indigenous people of the South Pacific.

John Webber impressed botanist Daniel Solander who then recommended him for the position of artist on Cook’s third, ill-fated voyage of 1776–1780.Cook anchored at Raiatea, Tahiti, from 3 November 1777 until 7 December. On 24 November, two crew members deserted from Discovery. To ensure their return, Cook enticed on board Oreo's son and daughter, Ta-eura and Poetua, and the latter's husband, Moetua, and held them captive until this was accomplished. It was under these circumstances that Poetua, pregnant at the time, posed for Webber in a cabin on board Discovery. Cook’s plan was successful, the men returned, and the captives released to their village.

On his return to England, Webber painted three versions of the portrait from that original work (presumed lost). One version was presented to the Admiralty and is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich; another is held by the National Library of Australia; and the present picture, the only one of the three dated (1785). This has descended from the collection of Princess Ariimanihinihi Takau Pomare (1887–1976), youngest daughter of Queen Marautaaroa I (1860–1934), the last Queen of Tahiti.

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