Past Events

PMC Postdoc Lecture: Ben Pollitt, ‘The Atlas Unbound: John Webber, James Cook, and the End of Sympathy’

ECRN Events – Dr Ben Pollitt

  • 28 October 2021
  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm

This is an event for  ECRN members only. Find more about the network here.

As the first in our new Postdoctoral Fellowship Lecture Series, Ben Pollitt will present on his research project ‘The Atlas Unbound: John Webber, James Cook, and the End of Sympathy’, funded by a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the PMC.

Ben's research examines eighteenth-century theories of sympathy in relation to the work of John Webber, the artist who travelled with Captain James Cook on his final voyage (1776–79/80). The principal object of his research is the print set, published as a separate atlas volume, that accompanied A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1784), the official account of the expedition. This series of sixty-one copper-plate engravings, made after Webber’s drawings, stands as one of the great publishing achievements of the eighteenth century.

Four years in the making and employing the skills of the most accomplished engravers of the day, Webber’s atlas set a new standard for the publication of European voyage narratives. For about eighteen months, from their publication, in June 1784, to the end of 1786, images from the atlas were among the most widely viewed artworks in Britain. Their impact was profound, yet, despite this, Webber's importance in the history of British art has long been overlooked. Characterised either as Cook’s hagiographer for his popular portrayal of the mariner's death, or dismissed as a Rousseauian primitivist, portraying the landscapes of Oceania as populated with ‘noble savages’ and seductive ‘dusky maidens’, the real significance of his images of the Pacific is far more vital and complex.

After Ben’s presentation there will be a chance to ask questions concerning his research, the PMC’s funding application process, and his experience as a Postdoctoral Fellow.

About the speaker

  • Ben Pollitt successfully completed his PhD in June 2020 at UCL. Since then, he has been awarded a Caird Research Fellowship and a Paul Mellon Research Fellowship. His research has been published in the Art Bulletin and Third Text. He currently works as a lecturer in the Courtauld Institute of Art.