Artist creates a fake history of Captain Cook

Capt. Cook. A fake History
George Baloghy
Artis Gallery
Until August 20

One of the great mistakes made by Captain James Cook was not entering Auckland'S Waitemata Harbour. He managed to map the tip of Waiheke island but then travelled further south to the river he named the Thames after the river of the great city where he lived.

However, George Baloghy has made up for Cook’s mistake with one of his new paintings Captain Cook Discovers Auckland ($13,000). It is one of the dozen paintings in his latest exhibition Capt. Cook – a Fake History. In this painting, based on a John Barr Hoyte panoramic work, he has imagined Cook’s Endeavor moored in the middle of the Waitemata harbour. The scene is watched over by a couple of Maori standing on one of the prominent hills of Auckland – Mt Eden or Mt Hobson. Baloghy has also peopled North Head with a pa site. He has combined the 19th-century view of Auckland along with the depiction of an eighteenth-century event to appropriate or fake a piece of history.

Each of the dozen works in the exhibition have an element of fakery, forgery or appropriation, which makes the exhibition intriguing in its combination of geography and recording of events. Creating parallel narratives expanding on the notion of Cook's voyages with their scientific impetus.

The artist is in many ways following in the tradition of the earlier painters who often produced advertorial images to present the country as idyllic and to attract settlers. So just as Charles Heaphy gave Mt Egmont a more dramatic profile and the bush-covered areas of Auckland turned into pastures, Baloghy has also tidied up his views, adding in an Endeavour, additional figures and the occasional cell phone

In Capt. Cook of the Birds, ($12,000) Baloghy depicts Cook in his most recognisable pose painted by Nathanial Dance along with several birds including the tui and kea, reference to the many ornithological specimens that Cook and his crew collected to take back to England.

Baloghy’ s paintings range from the carefully copied, through to works that are almost totally invented and mainly imagined. Capt. Cook meets the Noble Savage ($10,500) which is a copy of William Hodges’s View of Dusky Bay in the Auckland Art Gallery has the addition of the Endeavour while Capt. Cook discovers Lion Rock ($3800) is an imagined scene of the boat sailing along the west coast of Auckland.

Baloghy also traces the history of Cook's voyage from his departure from England with Capt. Cook leaves Whitby to discover NZ ($3800) through to Capt. Cook’s Legacy ($15,500) depicting Cook in a contemporary setting of modern day Auckland.

In Capt. Cook Discovers New Zealand ($15,00 the artist has combined a couple of images – Webber's portrait of Cook along with a background by William Hodges depicting waterspouts in Cook Strait. Baloghy has also tidied up Hodges' work, eliminating his bits of fakery. Where the original had an incongruous castle on a headland, that has been replaced by a Maori pah while the two standing figures in the foreground of the original who look Middle eastern have been taken out replaced by a few birds.

The artist says about the exhibition: “Cook, if nothing else, was a great publicist, marketing and branding “The Cook” name in ways only royalty had been able to do up to that time. Thus, the mythmaking of Cook began in 1769.

"Part of the mythmaking began with Cook’s own artists, who depicted the reality of what they saw in outrageously exaggerated ways, knowing full well that nobody was going to fact-check on them. They could, and did, depict their own fantastical narratives … picture the shock and titillation of face carving … it was a sensation!

"Captain Cook claimed New Zealand for the British Crown, without even considering that the local indigenous people might have different views on that. Nowadays, with 21st-century sensibilities, these colonising attitudes might seem outrageous, yet throughout these intervening years truth and fiction have parred for ascendency."