Permalink for this paragraph 1 Below is the first section of a paper on which I am working. It emerges from research that I was doing on the general relationship between the discourses of neoclassicism and race as they developed in Britain between 1760 and 1820. As I worked on the project, I became quite interested in two paintings, Joshua Reynolds’s Omai (1775-76) and John Webber’s Poedua (1785). Omai represented its subject in the pose of adlocutio while the subject in Poedua is in the pose of the Venus pudica.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I developed it further when Michel Chaouli and Dror Wahrman of Indiana University invited me to present a work in progress to the Art of Interpretation master class. I decided that I could focus on the adlocutio pose of Omai and use it as a point of departure for a more general discussion of neoclassicism and race. I was particularly concerned with how contemporaries had used the painting and how it related to other paintings in the exotic neoclassical style.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I was developing my arguments when Tom passed away in January. As I tried to come to terms with his death, I picked up his book Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity and began reading it again. His borderlands approach struck me as particularly relevant to my study of Omai. So, I decided to re-write my Omai essay with that in mind. I abandoned my earlier essay and began again.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I have included section one and outlined section two and three for you.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 I appreciate all of your comments and look forward to discussing it with you online soon.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Best wishes,
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Jason
Permalink for this paragraph 0
Jason M. Kelly, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of British History, IUPUI
School of Liberal Arts
Department of History, IUPUI
Cavanaugh Hall 503N
425 University Boulevard
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5140
Permalink for this paragraph 1
“Omai, Mai, and Joshua Reynolds: A Portrait of the Pacific Borderlands”
Jason M. Kelly
Associate Professor of History
Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Abstract:
Permalink for this paragraph 5 For many scholars, Joshua Reynolds’s Omai (1775-76) has become an icon of the eighteenth-century imperialist gaze — a representation of European discourses about race, culture, and gender. However, even as the painting has become central to various theoretical and historiographical arguments, the complexities of its production and circulation have been obscured. This essay challenges us to reject simplistic readings and to revisit Omai by analyzing it as the product of a cultural negotiation between sitter and painter, both of whom saw its creation as mutually advantageous. Rather than being a hegemonic representation of the ‘other’, the portrait reveals the agency of its subject and provides new avenues for understanding the history of eighteenth-century contact zones.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Introduction
Permalink for this paragraph 1 In May 1776, the Royal Academy held its eighth exhibition. The Academy’s President, Joshua Reynolds, displayed a remarkable thirteen portraits.[i] Among these was a full-length of a man named Mai. Mai was living on Tahiti when he convinced Captain Furneaux of Cook’s second expedition to bring him to London.[ii] He hoped to gain military allies, political capital, and exchangeable goods so that he could invade and retake Ra’iatea, the island from which he was an exile.[iii] Having his portrait painted by Britain’s leading artist was part of his overall strategy. In the exhibition space in Pall Mall, Omai was crowded among over 350 other works of art.[iv] Even so, as one contemporary noted, it emerged as one of ‘the best pictures in the rooms, in point of grace, elegance, and stile’.[v]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 To the east, along the River Thames, the Resolution waited in anchor at Long Reach.[vi] For the next month, it would be stocked with provisions for a circumnavigation of the globe — the third, and ultimately fatal, voyage for its captain, James Cook. Mai would soon be expected to be on board, to return to his home in the Society Islands. But, for now, Cook’s men loaded his treasure — linens, porcelain, beads, horses, cattle, plants, and seeds — all gifts from his English acquaintances and friends.[vii] The First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, even sent a suit of armor, crafted by the Ordnance Office.[viii]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 One can only imagine what Mai thought as he stood among the crowds looking at the exhibition. Wearing the English fashions of a suit, ruffles, and a sword, he looked at a copy of himself dressed in rich tapa cloth, standing in a landscape that resembled neither the Tahitian nor the English countryside. It was a grand painting to be sure. At 236 x 146 cm., it was the same size as the portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was hung next to it.[ix] He had sat for Reynolds many times at the artist’s studio in Leicester Fields.[x] While Reynolds tended to sketch his sitters directly on his canvases, a pencil study, an oil sketch, and a finished, full-length portrait survive of the Mai sittings. Clearly, Reynolds placed a high value on properly crafting his portrait of Mai.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [Joshua Reynolds. Mai. ca. 1774-75. pencil. 26.5 x 20 cm. National Library of Australia, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, NK9670.]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [Joshua Reynolds. Mai. ca. 1775. oils. 62.5 x 55 cm. Yale University Art Gallery.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 [Joshua Reynolds. Mai. 1775-76. oil on canvas. 236 x 146 cm. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin]
Permalink for this paragraph 2 When Mai first visited Reynolds, he was already a celebrity in ‘Bretanee’, as he referred to Britain.[xi] He had arrived in England in July 1774, and by his sitting with Reynolds, he was likely preparing himself for his return to Tahiti. He had already had an audience with King George III, been feted on a circuit of country house visitations, and experienced the London season. His English language skills were constantly improving, and he was well versed in English manners.[xii] When he sat for Reynolds, he was no passive ethnographic subject. After all, Mai had the right to accept or decline Reynolds’s offer to paint his portrait. He had the ability and means to negotiate with the President of the Royal Academy to construct an image on which they could both agree. Therefore we would be mistaken to read Reynolds’s Omai as simply a ‘representation of’ Mai. Instead, we should follow Harry Berger and recognize that early modern sitters played active roles in molding their portraits.[xiii] In fact, both Mai and Reynolds had political, cultural, and social motives in constructing the painting. They were creating an image that each man saw as mutually advantageous.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Embedded in Omai are the negotiations between Reynolds and Mai — traces of the accommodations that individuals make in so-called ‘borderlands’. By using the notion of a ‘borderland’, I follow Tom Sizgorich’s definition:
Permalink for this paragraph 2 a space in which no one cultural or political force is able to exercise uncontested hegemony and in which one is likely to encounter discursive economies that incorporate (but do not assimilate) the influences of various cultural traditions and political interests.[xiv]
Permalink for this paragraph 2 I use the concept of ‘borderland’ broadly, encompassing not only geographical borderlands, but also imagined borderlands. Therefore, they can be conceptual spaces where political ideas, social concepts, cultural codes, identities, and community boundaries are forged and re-forged. While related, the concept of a ‘borderland’ differs qualitatively from a ‘contact zone’ as defined by Mary Louise Pratt:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, racial inequality, and intractable conflict. [xv]
Permalink for this paragraph 1 The notion of a ‘contact zone’ implies that an asymmetric power relationship exists and that it is somewhat stable. On a borderland, however, the balance of power is constantly in flux. Given the relationships between Europeans and Pacific islanders during the eighteenth century, seeing cultural contact through the model of a borderland is appropriate.[xvi] One needs only to read the journals of Cook’s voyages to see that the British were not dominant in the eighteenth century Pacific. They relied on negotiation, trade, gift giving, diplomacy, and hospitality to accomplish their mission in the Pacific. These facts were clear to contemporaries, not only in the manuscript records of the voyages, but in the widely circulated published accounts as well.
Permalink for this paragraph 3 Reynolds’s Omai was an artifact at the intersection of multiple borderlands that stretched across both space and time. Most obviously, the painting was a product of the exchanges between Britons and Pacific islanders — the consequence of British voyages of discovery, themselves part of a larger imperial project.[xvii] These contacts took place primarily in the Pacific, the visit of Mai to England being the exception. Less obviously, in addition to being a product of a synchronic cultural exchange, Omai existed along a diachronic borderland. This is because Reynolds and Mai were working in the aesthetic idiom of the neoclassical grand manner portrait.[xviii] The painter was not simply imitating classical models, but he was in an intentional dialogue with classical culture as it was understood in the 1770s. This fact complicates our understanding of the portrait’s history by juxtaposing multiple traditions and assumptions: the cultural and political worlds of the Pacific and Britain with the imagined realms of the classical. Following Margaret Naum on the notion of a borderland material culture, Reynolds and Mai ‘operate[d] simultaneously in different cultural worlds and [we]re able to skillfully maneuver in an uncertain landscape’.[xix] Omai is the product of this landscape.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Much of what has been written about Omai focuses on representations, specifically how Mai served the interests of various British social, cultural, racial, or gender discourses.[xx] For example, the excellent work of Harriet Guest has exposed the multiple ways in which Mai served as a floating signifier. In one recent essay, she notes that in eighteenth-century print culture, Mai had no voice — that his presence in London served as a primitive mirror for the ideals of the British elite.[xxi] However, there is a problem with this approach in that it tends to write the agency of Mai out of the story.[xxii] It reproduces a particular type of imperial discourse, a binary world of the powerful and the weak. It frames Britain’s ‘other’ as the passive subject to its military, cultural, or political dominance. It is not that Mai’s image and reputation were not integrated into discourses about race, gender, and cultural hierarchies; it was. However, focusing on these stories has erased Mai from his own history, one that is both more complex and more ambiguous. This complexity and ambiguity is generally true of relationships in borderlands and contact zones, as numerous postcolonial scholars have recognized.[xxiii] Nevertheless, studies of eighteenth-century British visual culture have been slow to recognize this fact.[xxiv] In the case of Omai, this is not surprising. Studying the painting without reproducing simple binaries is complicated by the fact that Mai left no written records. Our knowledge is mediated almost entirely by British accounts.[xxv]
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Still, another story of Omai can to be told — one that does not ignore the process of ‘othering’, representations of British imperial hegemony, or conceptions of the noble savage, but instead complements them. To do this, we must read Omai and its related sources against the grain — investigating the implicit assumptions, tensions, contradictions, and negotiations embedded in the narratives. I pay attention to the object as a discursive world in itself, an approach of particular importance given the fact that we have no first person accounts from Mai. This essay focuses on the making of Omai as opposed to its cultural re-making through commentary and circulation. Doing this allows us to uncover trace voices of its artist and its sitter and thus to recreate a moment of exchange in the eighteenth-century Tahitian-British borderlands.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Drawing and painting hands was not Joshua Reynolds’s strength. When he arrived in Rome in 1750, he had limited formal training. And, like most British artists, his life drawing skills were limited. He had not practiced hands to any great degree. His teacher, Thomas Hudson, thought that it wasted time.[xxvi] Their complex physiology — the dozens of muscles that allowed humans to create a seemingly endless number of forms — took too much time in the studio. Portrait painting was a commercial endeavor, and there was little time for the intricacies of individuals’ hands. In Italy however, Reynolds came face to face with countless masters, and he no doubt recognized his limitations. This did not mean that he veiled the hand as his teacher sometimes had done. Rather, it meant that the particulars of anatomical exactness were less important than the overall mood of the work.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 In no other painting by Reynolds are the hands so central an element as they are in Omai. There are three reasons that I will address in the essay. First, the adlocutio pose, indicated by Mai’s hands, pointed to his political significance, but it also displayed the tensions inherent Mai’s and Reynolds’s interests. Mai had specific private political and military goals, while Reynolds sought to present an idealized vision of civic humanism that transcended private interest. Using both the gesture of adlocutio and the space in which it was performed allowed Mai and Reynolds each to articulate their divergent views. Secondly, highlighting Mai’s hands emphasized the tattoos on his hands and arms. A simple reading would see these as marks of exoticism. However, both Reynolds and Mai had practical and philosophical reasons for displaying his tattoos in this way. The marked skin, and the unmarked tapa cloth to which it contrasts, made the body a site on which competing notions of cultural difference and status could be negotiated. Finally, drawing Mai in the adlocutio pose allowed Reynolds and Mai to speak about cultural differences across time and space. While Mai was able to use the pose for his political purposes, Reynolds used it to comment on the relationship between aesthetics and cultural development.
Permalink for this paragraph 5 Reynolds positioned Mai’s hands to conform to a classical Roman portrait type, the adlocutio gesture. The pose, characterized by a contrapposto figure with an extended arm, was a favorite type for Roman emperors and generals during the empire.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [Tiberius. 1st century CE. Capri. marble. 2.08 m. Département des Antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines, Louvre, Paris. Inventaire MR 355]
Permalink for this paragraph 5 While most often characterized by the dextra elata, or the elevated arm, it was not necessary, as with the Vatican Tiberius now at the Louvre. Reynolds first adopted this figure type after visiting Rome, experimenting with it as early as 1752 with his portrait of Commodore Augustus Keppel.[xxvii]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [Joshua Reynolds. Captain The Honourable Augustus Keppel. 1752-53. oil on canvas. 239 x 147.5 cm. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, BHC2823]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The adlocutio pose was central to Reynolds’s grand manner style, which sought to elevate the individual character into the realm of the ideal. As Reynolds argued, the grand manner portrait should ignore minute particularities in both the form of the subject and the style of the painting, focusing instead on general ideas and impressions.[xxviii] Too much focus on context could distract viewers from the painting’s more elevated purpose. Thus, it could speak to universal values. Through generalizing concepts and effacing its specific context, Omai had an ambiguity that served the purposes of both Reynolds and Mai. The pose was more than a deliberate non-verbal, but visible, utterance — a simple gesture.[xxix] While it is gestural — a kinesic speech act relying on a common visual language — its symbolic effect was clouded by the multiple interests of its authors. These ambiguities are similar to what Erving Goffman termed ‘symptoms’, or secondary expressions that complicated its meaning.[xxx]
Permalink for this paragraph 5 Since the gesture suggested a public figure making a public statement, by 1775, Reynolds repeatedly used it as an icon of civic virtue and individual worth.[xxxi] By having himself promoted in the adlocutio pose, Mai was able to appropriate these associations and use them to further his own interests. Mai was consistent in his attempts to reach out as a public figure who represented the Society Islanders. Within days of his arrival in London, he arrived at court. He stated that he planned to avenge his father’s death and reclaim Ra’iatea from the Poroporan leader Opoone. To George III, he declared, ‘Sir, You are King of England, Otaheite [Tahiti], Ulhietea [Ra'iatea], & Bola Bola [Bora Bora]: I am your Subject, & am come here for Gunpowder to destroy the Inhabitants of Bola Bola, who are our Enemies’.[xxxii]
Permalink for this paragraph 1 ['Omiah the Indian from Otaheite presented to their Majesties at Kew by Mr Banks & Dr Solander, 17 July 1774'. engraving. 11.1 x 13.9 cm. National Library of Australia, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, NK10666.]
Permalink for this paragraph 3 In effect, Mai was negotiating with the king to get military support. No doubt, Mai hoped to attain significant power, if not to rule on the king’s behalf. This was not an uncommon political arrangement in the Society Islands, and Mai likely hoped to replace Reo who governed Ra’aitea on behalf of Opoone.[xxxiii] He repeated these claims during his stay in Britain, acting the role of diplomat, statesman, and rising general. One newspaper quotes him as promising to reinvade Ra’aitea and shooting Opoone.[xxxiv] At numerous dinner parties and public events, he made clear his support for George III.[xxxv] The adlocutio portrait was simply one more means to cultivate this public persona.
Permalink for this paragraph 3 There is movement in Mai’s pose suggesting forward momentum — as if in addition to making a rhetorical motion — he is moving towards the viewer. This is an effect of the adlocutio pose and was particularly pronounced in work by Reynolds and his contemporaries. It could denote arrival or departure, adventus or abitus/profectio. These narrative modes were classical formulations that could represent both ceremonial and informal comings and goings. Adventus was the ritualized arrival of emperors, kings, generals, or other public figures. Formal versions of the ceremony lasted through the early modern period and were specifically civic rituals. Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Keppel illustrates a particular type of adventus, the ceremonial arrival and welcoming of a military leader. It celebrates Keppel’s landing in Minorca in 1749 to take command as Commodore of the Mediterranean fleet. Like the adventio, departure could be both formal and informal. Abitus was an informal departure, while profectio was the ritualized departure of a public figure. Benjamin West’s appropriation of the pose in the Savage Warrior Taking Leave of His Family (ca. 1760) demonstrates the action of abitus.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [Benjamin West, Savage Warrior Taking Leave of His Family. ca. 1760. oil on canvas. 60 x 48 cm. Royal College of Surgeons of England, London]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 West’s image made a reference to classical antiquity, in this case the image of Hector leaving Andromache from the Iliad, a favorite departure story among early modern artists. The forms of adventus and abitus/profectio were particularly suited to the plastic arts. Well established in literature, they provided a narrative meaning and temporal structure to the paintings and sculptures.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Unlike Reynolds’s Keppel or West’s Savage Warrior, the movement in Omai is unclear. Mai could be leaving from or arriving in Tahiti. This ambiguity served multiple rhetorical purposes and allowed two stories to be told simultaneously. The first is about Mai and his status in the Society Islands. Mai, while certainly privileged, was not among the elite leaders in Tahiti. As a refugee from Ra’iatea, he planned to use the island as a base from which to organize resistance to Opoone and Rea, hoping eventually to invade the island on which his father had died. His decision to join the Cook expedition represents his failure to gain political influence on Tahiti. The risks he took were several: loss of position in Tahiti, dangers inherent to sea travel, and death. He knew, for example, that his predecessor Tupaia, another refugee from Ra’iatea, had joined Cook’s first voyage and died from disease. The fact that Mai was willing to take such a gamble suggests that he had limited influence in the Society Islands and needed the help of a foreign power. The benefits from an international voyage outweighed the risks. For their part, the British public was aware of Mai’s background, and to many, it must have become apparent that his role in the Society Islands would probably be as a cultural broker rather than a power broker.
Permalink for this paragraph 9 For these reasons, Mai worked hard to project his political significance to the British elites and the public at large. In addition to traveling in the circles of Joseph Banks, Lord Sandwich, Charles and Fanny Burney, among many other famous and influential elites, Mai went on solitary visitations, both in London and beyond, to solidify his social network.[xxxvi] At times, he played the part of ambassador, political exile, landowner, or priest in an attempt to elicit sympathy and support.[xxxvii] Given this context, Omai, to be hung at the Royal Academy exhibition, must be understood in light of this attempt to craft a public image. Not only would thousands of visitors see it hung among portraits of the British elites, but since Reynolds planned to have it engraved by Bartolozzi, it would circulate among many more people. While Reynolds would reap the financial rewards, the consumption of his image promised Mai continued fame. Even after he left England, the print would remind Britons of his importance to their interests, potentially bringing him further material and military support. In all, he was engaging in a process of public self-fashioning that would transform him from a middling Tahitian landowner into a grand player in the interregional politics of the Society Islands.
Permalink for this paragraph 5 The ambiguity of coming and going was necessary to serve Mai’s and Reynolds’s political interests. The confusion accomplishes a metalepsis which effaces Mai’s desire to gain power.[xxxviii] Mai, of course, wanted to present himself as a person of importance, not a middling landowner seeking power. He accomplished this through fluid representations and re-representations of himself. For his part, Reynolds worked in the ‘grand style’, ‘leaving out particularities, and retaining only general ideas’.[xxxix] He needed Omai to transcend the temporal context and represent a person apart from the realm of political machination. The metaleptic process, as Clement Hawes has described so well, works through a series of steps.[xl] In Omai, the figure of Mai as ambassador and political leader, is ‘projected backwards’ onto Mai the middling landowner. The new image of Mai, substituted for the earlier image, allows the painter and subject to construct a new narrative of events. In this version, Mai does not need to self fashion his image. He does not need to find new allies. He does not need to build his power or his wealth. If read as a profectio the image shows a version of Mai already well established at the point of departure — a person of credibility in Tahiti, one perfectly suited to the role of emissary. The feting and gift-giving — the acquisition of commodities and weapons — are not the result of Mai’s bid to gain power. Rather, they are the natural outgrowths of an ambassadorial mission. As adventus, Mai returns triumphantly to Tahiti, a hero and adventurer ready to resume his place among the elite. He has now made an important alliance for the Tahitians, one that will protect their territory — and perhaps help them expand it.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 The second rhetorical move that emerges from the ambiguity of adventus and profectio concerns the space through which Mai moved. The figure of Mai is positioned on a winding river. Along the banks are palm-like plants to connate an exotic place. In the background is a mountain peak similar to those seen in the Tahitian landscapes of William Hodges, one of the artists on Cook’s second voyage. Like Reynolds, he exhibited at the 1776 Royal Academy exhibition, including a view of Matavai Bay and Vaitepiha on Tahiti.[xli]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [William Hodges. The 'Resolution' and 'Adventure' in Matavai Bay, Tahiti. 1776. oil on canvas. 137.2 x 193.2 cm National Maritime Museum, Ministry of Defence Art Collection, BHC1932]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [William Hodges. A View taken [in] ye Bay of Oaite Peha [Vaitepiha], OTAHEITE [Tahiti Revisited]. 1776. oil on canvas. 92.7 x 138.4 cm. National Maritime Museum, London, Ministry of Defence Art Collection (BHC2396)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The difference between Hodges’s and Reynolds’s landscapes point to the different purposes of their work and political nature of landscape painting more generally. Their landscapes encouraged different forms of reading.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 The Admiralty Office commissioned Hodges to provide topographically accurate, ostensibly empirical, images.[xlii] This being the case, not only the landscapes, but the objects within the landscape, were mapped as factual.[xliii] In his sketches, accuracy was important, but his finished oil paintings of Tahiti were composites of his on site drawings. He composed them using colors and moods reminiscent of Claude Lorrain and Richard Wilson, Hodges’s teacher. They were neither entirely fanciful, nor entirely exact and fulfilled an intermediate place between on-site topographies and idealized views.[xliv] In a sense, they were Claudian ethnographic topographies — idealized juxtapositions of factual records similar to the Greek archaeological topographies of his contemporaries, James Stuart and William Pars.[xlv]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 For Reynolds, this approach simply would not do. As in his portraiture, his preference was for works that represented the ideal as opposed to the actual, a tradition found in seventeenth-century Italian landscapes and classified as the Grand Style, or Grand Manner. In an Aristotelian mode, Reynolds distinguished the accidents of nature from its substance.[xlvi] What he considered to be the proper representation of ‘nature’ was that which removed ‘accidental’ deformities:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Deformity is not nature, but an accidental derivation from her accustomed practice. This general idea therefore ought to be called nature; and nothing else, correctly speaking, has a right to that name.[xlvii]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 It was the duty of the artist to recognize the deformities of nature — whether a figure or a landscape — and elevate it to an ideal. Thus, he preferred the landscapes of Claude Lorrain to those of the Dutch artists:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The Italian attends only to the invariable, the great and general ideas which are fixed and inherent in universal Nature; the Dutch, on the contrary, to literal truth and a minute exactness in the details, as I may say, of Nature modified by accident. The attention to these petty peculiarities is the very cause of this naturalness so much admired in the Dutch Pictures, which, if we suppose it to be a beauty, is certainly of a lower order, which ought to give place to a beauty of a superior kind, since one cannot be obtained but by departing from the other.[xlviii]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Unlike Hodges who by necessity of his employment represented nature’s difference and the variable customs of humanity, Reynolds sought universals.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 As John Barrell has argued, Reynolds’s landscapes spoke of a political language of art, one that had implications for Omai. In his early Discourses to the Royal Academy, Reynolds argued that those who took the time to ponder art could discover the principles of beauty. This applied to landscape, portraiture, and, of course, history painting. Reynolds’s argument is necessarily an elite one in that proper judgment required education and detachment from both labor and private commercial interest.[xlix] Art spoke to a narrow public who became the legitimate arbiters of beauty, themselves the best fit to rule. Through contemplation, they were expected to see the close relations between artistic aesthetics and public virtue. Reynolds’s aesthetic philosophy was for the elite, in itself not necessarily surprising. However, the artist couched his arguments in a version of civic humanism that was particularly appealing to them. John Barrell explains Reynolds’s modification of civic humanist rhetoric as found in writers such as Shaftesbury:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 If painting, for Reynolds, seeks to persuade or convince us of anything, it seeks to convince us, not as rhetoric does, of the moral imperative to perform a certain kind of action, but, as philosophy does, of the truth of a general proposition. In short, instead of a rhetorical aesthetic, which situates the function of painting within a civic vita activa, he offers us a philosophical aesthetic, which situates it within a vita contemplativa, but still a civic life. Painting is primarily concerned to enable us to think in a certain way.[l]
Permalink for this paragraph 1 In other words, ‘painting no longer seeks to persuade, but to display the world in such a way as to make it an instructive metaphor for the world as perceived by an ideal citizen’.[li] In a period of increased radicalism and tensions over the proper social order, land took on an even more profound meaning.[lii] And, it is the concern over these tensions that figure into the construction the landscape of Omai.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 While Reynolds sought to represent an ideal of nature, in this case, a landscape of natural beauty, it would have political reverberations given its context. Mai’s place within this landscape echoed larger concerns about rights within the empire at large. Mai was consistent in offering a narrative of his loss of power. A foreign leader, Opoone, had invaded his land, and in their attempts to resist, his family had been driven from the island. In the war, his father had been killed. Mai had suffered not only the loss of a family member, but the indignity and economic consequences of losing his property. This was not only a poetic idea that would appeal to eighteenth-century Britons — the story of a dethroned prince — but it resonated with contemporary ideas about the meaning of being landed and the status that came with it. For Reynolds, having landed status — one that brought with it the freedom from physical labor as well as the overwhelming concern for personal interest — was the basis of the disinterested citizen of public virtue. In Reynolds’s schema, Mai moving through the landscape was both an exotic equivalent to the British elite and a figure for elite contemplation.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 But, of course, there was a tension inherent to the language of property. Mai’s status as a landowner had been usurped by a foreign invader. In effect, the ideal of Reynolds’s landscape was undermined by the political realities inherent in it. It revealed a story of dispossession — of imperial conquest — mirrored in the practices of the British in North America. Even as Reynolds sought to present a timeless image, Mai grounded it very much in time. Omai‘s narrative resonated with the stories of other emissaries, including Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), who arrived in England towards the end of Mai’s stay.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Joseph Brant was one of dozens of Native American visitors to Britain during the eighteenth century.[liii] Some of them were feted as celebrities. Some became little more than curiosities, a situation that Banks explicitly wished to avoid in the case of Mai. A number of the visits were formal diplomatic missions, the most famous of these being that of the ‘Four Kings’, who met with Queen Anne in 1710. Brant’s visit in 1775 was in the vein of a diplomatic mission. His immediate aim was to secure British protection for Mohawk lands, which were being taken by the American colonists In exchange, Brant, a prominent broker between the British and various Native American groups, offered military support against rebellious colonists.[liv] Like Mai, Brant came to the King in an attempt to negotiate an alliance in order to secure land. In Brant’s case, however, he needed protection from the King’s own subjects.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Even as Omai was a story of resistance to oppression, the narrative doubled-back upon itself, reminding readers of another oppression — that of the British Empire. Were the rights and privileges associated with land rights to be denied to Native Americans even as they were offered to dispossessed Pacific Islanders such as Mai? This problem was clearly on the minds of some who saw Omai at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1776. One story told of Joseph Brant visiting the exhibition and seeing Omai. Having heard that Mai was a great man, celebrated by the nobility and gentry, Brant was shocked to hear that not only was Mai not a ‘formidable leader’, but neither he nor the Tahitians had ever taken up arms to support the George III. Meanwhile, his own people had died defending the British Empire and continued to suffer at the hands of the king’s subjects.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 If, in Reynolds’s terms, the painting was an object of contemplation for the ideal citizen, his message was undermined by Mai’s political aspirations. The timeless forms meant to be embedded in the image were disrupted by the intrusions of Mai’s self-fashioning as well as the situation in the American colonies. Reynolds was able to alleviate this to an extent by using the ambiguities inherent to the adlocutio pose and adventus/profectio. However, by encouraging the public to consider the ideal of nature, his work also reveals breakdowns — moments when his representation was unable to hide the ‘accidents’ of nature — moments when the interests of Mai conflicted with those of the artist. At these points, we can trace some of their negotiations and even their voices.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 This is the end of section one of this paper. Below, I outline the arguments that I am making in the next two parts so you can see what I intend the final paper to look like.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Section 2: Tapa and Tattoos
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Once again, using Mai’s hands as a starting point, I am interested in exploring Reynolds’s and Mai’s notions of the body in this section. Mai’s choice to be represented in his tapa cloth robes while exposing his tattooed arms was conscious decision on his part to be seen in a particular way. When he arrived in England, he soon recognized the value of being seen as exotic, and he knew that his appearance would add to his reputation. On more than one occasion, he utilized his clothing to emphasize his status as an emissary. On other occasions, he used his tattooed skin to emphasize his difference, including one instance in which he stripped, displayed his tattooed buttocks, and went swimming in front of a number of his elite acquaintances. There was a second narrative at play as well. He acted as a cultural informant, explaining the significance of his tattoos and his clothing. To the British, the quality of his tapa robes represented status, and his headdress suggested to his eighteenth-century audience that he was a member of the arioi, supposed to be an elite priesthood.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Mai’s emphasis on his cultural difference presented problems for Reynolds, who was concerned with the ‘accidents’ of cultural variation. Omai forced him to reconsider his concepts of the ideal, and within months after displaying Omai at the Royal Academy, he drafted a discourse about cultural variation and the arts. In it, he pondered the relationship of the universal to the particular: if all humans had a ‘general similitude’, then how did they differ so much in their cultural particulars?[lv] His answer was that since all knowledge is a posteriori, all imagination is limited to the senses.[lvi] Those familiar with ‘the works that have pleased different ages and different countries, and has formed his opinion of them, has more materials, and more means of knowing’.[lvii] Thus, there was true beauty. However, there was some room for ‘secondary truths’ rooted in ‘local and temporary prejudices, fancies, fashions, or accidental connection of ideas’.[lviii] In other words, there are ‘general principles’ that are universally true, but their ‘mode’ might be ‘continually varying’ through custom.[lix] Reynolds’s Discourse of 1776 claims that the beauties of ornament and dress are, in general, relative:
Permalink for this paragraph 0 If a European, when he has cut off his beard, and put false hair on his head, or bound up his own natural hair in regular hard knots, as unlike nature as he can possibly make it . . . . if thus attired, he issues forth, and meets a Cherokee Indian, who has bestowed as much time at his toilet, and laid on equal care and attention his yellow and red ochre on particular parts of his forehead or cheeks, as he judges most becoming: whoever of these two despises the other for this attention to the fashion of his country, which ever first feels himself provoked to laugh, is the barbarian.[lx]
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Consequently, Omai‘s dress, while exotic, did not make him any more or less of a man. His customs differed, but that did not change the substantive features of his character. And, likewise, it did not change the substantive narrative of the painting. Thus, his engagement with Mai forced Reynolds to work out his notions of cultural difference.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Section 3: The Classical World
Permalink for this paragraph 2 This final section returns to the adlocutio pose as a gesture in dialogue with the classical world. Certainly, the neoclassical mode of representation was very much on the mind of Joshua Reynolds. The question that I ask in this section is, ‘in what ways did neoclassicism allow Reynolds and Mai to express their rhetorical goals, and why did they choose this representational mode over the others that were available to them?’ By the time that Reynolds painted his portrait, Mai had already had himself painted, drawn, and engraved on several occasions. Thus, while certainly not as knowledgeable as Reynolds about the aesthetic milieu of eighteenth-century Britain, he had some experience with portraiture. For his part, Reynolds tapped into a European-wide discussion about the relationship of the primitive, sensibility, aesthetics, and cultural difference.
[i] The Exhibition of the Royal Academy (London, 1776), 21.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [ii] James Cook, The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery: The Voyage of the Resolution and Adventure, 1772-1775, ed. John Cawte Beaglehole, vol. 2, Hakluyt Society Extra Series 35 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1969), 221.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [iii] Daniel Solander to [James Lind?], 19 August 1744, Ibid., 2:949-50.; Eric Hall McCormick, Omai: Pacific envoy (Aukland and Oxford: Auckland University Press and Oxford University Press, 1977), 3.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [vi] James Cook, The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776-1780, ed. John Cawte Beaglehole, vol. 3, Hakluyt Society Extra Series 35 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1967), 3.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [vii] James Cook, The Journals of Captain James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery: The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery, 1776-1780, ed. John Cawte Beaglehole, vol. 3, Hakluyt Society Extra Series 36 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1973), 4; Joseph Banks, “Account of presents for Omai; Things intended for Omai [and] Things intended to be sent to Oedidee,” 1776, National Library of Australia, http://www.nla.gov.au/cdview/nla.ms-ms9-1.1.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [viii] Ordnance Office to Admiralty Secretary, 4 August 1775, in Cook, Cook Journals, 3:1484. “Omiah: An Ode. Addressed to Charlotte Hayes,” Public Advertiser (London, May 24, 1776), 14553 edition.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xi] Greg Dening, “O Mai! This is Mai: A Masque of a Sort,” in Cook & Omai: The Cult of the South Seas, ed. Michelle Hetherington (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2001), 55.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xiv] Thomas Sizgorich, Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 149. On theories of borderlands, see Fredrik Barth, “Introduction,” in Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Différence., ed. Fredrik Barth (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1970), 1-38, http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=12434451; Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 3rd ed. (Aunt Lute Books, 2007); Hastings Donnan and Thomas M. Wilson, Borders: Frontiers of Identity, Nation and State (Berg Publishers, 1999); Nadia Abu El-Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2002); Greg Dening, Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas, 1774-1880 (Dorsey Press, 1988); Magdalena Naum, “Re-emerging Frontiers: Postcolonial Theory and Historical Archaeology of the Borderlands.,” Journal of Archaeological Method & Theory 17, no. 2 (June 2010): 101-131; Annie Coombes, “The Recalcitrant Object: Culture Contact and the Question of Hybridity,” in Colonial Discourse /Postcolonial Theory, ed. Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994), 89-115; Michiel Baud and Willem van. Schendel, “Toward a Comparative History of Borderlands,” Journal of World History 8, no. 2 (1997): 211-242.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xvi] I. C. Campbell, “Culture Contact and Polynesian Identity in the European Age,” Journal of World History 8, no. 1 (April 1, 1997): 29-55; Alex Calder, Bridget Orr, and Jonathan Lamb, eds., “Introduction: Postcoloniality and the Pacific,” in Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840 (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999), 1-24.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xvii] John Gascoigne, Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment: Useful Knowledge and Polite Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Margarette Lincoln, Science and Exploration in the Pacific: European Voyages to the Southern Oceans in the Eighteenth Century (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press and the National Maritime Museum, 1998); John Gascoigne, Science in the Service of Empire: Joseph Banks, the British State and the Uses of Science in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xviii] Catherine Tite, Portraiture, Dynasty and Power: Art Patronage in Hanoverian Britain, 1714-1759 (Cambria Press, 2010), 3-4; Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Bjorn Kerber, Pompeo Batoni (Yale University Press, 2007); Andrew Wilton and Tate Gallery, The swagger portrait: grand manner portraiture in Britain from Van Dyck to Augustus John, 1630-1930 (Tate Gallery, 1992).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xx] Kate Fullagar, “Reynolds’ New Masterpiece: From Experiment in Savagery to Icon of the Eighteenth Century,” Cultural and Social History 7, no. 2 (2010): 191-212; Harriet Guest, “Ornament and Use: Mai and Cook in London,” in A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660-1840, ed. Kathleen Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Harriet Guest, “Curiously marked: tattooing and gender difference in eighteenth-century British perceptions of the South Pacific,” in Written on the body : the tattoo in European and American history / edited by Jane Caplan, ed. Jane Caplan (Princeton, N.J. :: Princeton University Press, 2000), http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/prin032/99069245.html; Michael Alexander, Omai, noble savage (London: Harvill Press, 1977), http://openlibrary.org/b/OL4611814M/Omai_noble_savage; Alexander H. Bolyanatz, Pacific romanticism: Tahiti and the European imagination (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004); Richard Michael Connaughton, Omai: the prince who never was (Timewell Press, 2005); Harriet Guest, Empire, barbarism, and civilisation: James Cook, William Hodges, and the return to the Pacific (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones, “Mai/Omai in London and the South Pacific: Performativity, Cultural Entanglement, and Indigenous Appropriation,” in Material identities, ed. Joanna R. Sofaer (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007), 13-31; E. H. (Eric Hall) McCormick, Omai: Pacific Envoy (Auckland University Press : Oxford University Press, 1977); Rüdiger Joppien, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and Australian Academy of the Humanities., The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages / Smith, Bernard,; 1916- (New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press, 1985); Bernard Smith, European vision and the South Pacific (Yale University Press, 1985); Bernard Smith, Imagining the Pacific (Yale University Press, 1992); Michelle Hetherington, Cook & Omai: The Cult of the South Seas (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2001).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxi] Guest, “Ornament and use.” This is quite similar to Gayatari Spivak’s observation that ‘ ‘No perspective critical of imperialism can turn the Other into a self, because the project of imperialism has always already historically refracted what might have been the absolutely Other into a domesticated Other that consolidates the imperialist self.’ Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (1985): 253.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxiv] On the other hand, scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have developed this theme. A few representative publications include Andrew Apter, “On Imperial Spectacle: The Dialectics of Seeing in Colonial Nigeria,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44, no. 3 (July 1, 2002): 564-596; Timothy Burke, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe (Duke University Press, 1996); Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (Routledge, 1995); Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones and Mary Roberts, eds., Edges of Empire: Orientalism and Visual Culture (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005); Frederick Nathaniel Bohrer, Orientalism and Visual Culture: Imagining Mesopotamia in Nineteenth-century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxv] Scholars who have recently used the archives in tandem with material culture to uncover the voice of eighteenth-century Pacific islanders include Nicholas Thomas, Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook (Penguin, 2004); Anne Salmond, The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Encounters in the South Seas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003); Greg Dening, Beach crossings: voyaging across times, cultures and self (Melbourne University Publishing, 2004); Margaret. Jolly, “Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of a Sea of Islands,” The Contemporary Pacific 19, no. 2 (2007): 508-545. There have been a number of theoretical debates focused on this issue, most notably that between Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere. See Marshall Sahlins, How “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook, For Example (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996); Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1987); Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); R.H. Borofsky, Gananath Obeyesekere, and Marshall Sahlins, “CA Forum on Theory in Anthropology: Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins [and Comments and Reply],” Current Anthropology 38, no. 2 (1997): 255-82. The problems inherent to both ethnography and the analysis of ethnographic texts are theorized in James Clifford and George E. Marcus, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); Margaret Fee, “Why CK Stead Didn’t Like Keri Hulme’s The Bone People: Who Can Write as Other?,” Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 1 (1989): 11–32; Gareth Griffiths, “The Myth of Authenticity,” in De-scribing Empire: Post-colonialism and Textuality, ed. Chris Tiffin and Alan Lawson (London: Routledge, 1994); George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Linda Smith Tuhiwai, Deconstructing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (New York: Zed, 1999).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxvii] David Solkin, “Great Pictures or Great Men? Reynolds, Male Portraiture, and the Power of Art,” Oxford Art Journal 9, no. 2 (1986): 44-45; Richard Brilliant, Gesture and Rank in Roman Art: The Use of Gestures to Denote Status in Roman Sculpture and Coinage, vol. 14, Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1963), 68-69; Helen F. North, “Emblems of Eloquence,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 137, no. 3 (September 1993): 418-20. As Solkin notes, Alan Ramsay’s Norman, 22nd Chief of Macleod (Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye) used this type in 1748. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the year on which Ramsay returned from his own tour of Italy.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxix] Michael J. Braddick, ed., The Politics of Gesture: Historical Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation Of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 3-30; Adam Kendon, Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xxxviii] For particularly clear explications of metalepsis, see Clement Hawes, The British eighteenth century and global critique (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Irene de Jong, “Metalepsis in Ancient Greek Literature,” in Narratology and Interpretation: The Content of Narrative Form in Ancient Literature, ed. Jonas Grethlein and Antonios Rengakos (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009), 87-115. The classic text on metalepsis is Gérard Genette and Jane E. Lewin, Narrative discourse: an essay in method (Cornell University Press, 1983).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xliv] On the distinction between topographic views and vedute, see Ann Bermingham, Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2000), 78; Barbara Maria Stafford, Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, Nature, and the Illustrated Travel Account (The MIT Press, 1984).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xlv] Jason M. Kelly, The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment (New Haven and London: Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2010), chapter 6.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [xlvi] John Barrell, “The Public Prospect and the Private View: The Politics of Taste in Eighteenth-century Britain,” in Reading Landscape: Country, City, Capital, ed. Simon Pugh (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), 20-21.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [lii] John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); Ann Bermingham, Landscape and Ideology: The English Rustic Tradition, 1740-1860 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
Permalink for this paragraph 0 [liii] Troy O. Bickham, Savages within the Empire: Representations of American Indians in Eighteenth-century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Tim Fulford, Romantic Indians: Native Americans, British Literature, and Transatlantic Culture 1756-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones, Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain, 1700-1850 (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2007); Hugh Honour, The New Golden Land: European Images of America from the Discoveries to the Present Time (Allen Lane, 1976); Alden T. Vaughan, Transatlantic Encounters: American Indians in Britain, 1500-1776 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).