First Published Views of the Pacific Northwest

Tlingit women pick berries with a dog, Baranof Island Alaska, in engraving made by F. H. Freiherr von Klittlitz, from F. P. Litke’s Voyage autour du monde.  Atlas, 1835, plate 5b.


Travelers and adventurers today document trips with photographs and videos on social media, in published works, and in produced documentaries. The first travel writers to publish narrative accounts and visual depictions of the Pacific Northwest were eighteenth and nineteenth century maritime voyagers from Russia, Britain, France, Spain, and the eastern United States. Published accounts of their voyages were accompanied by illustrations depicting topography, people, crafts, and tools native to this region.

Illustrations of this time period started as sketches and became primarily copper engravings.  These informative, decorative, and didactic illustrations were commonly printed along with maps and charts as plates in a folio-sized atlas. Atlases and exploration accounts were, in first printing, sold as a set, on a subscription basis.  The publications offered never before seen views of far-away places and peoples.


Nootka carvings including masks and rattle, Nootka Sound, British Columbia, in engraving made 1778. From James Cook’s A voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Atlas, 1773-1784, pl. 40


UW Special Collections has an extraordinary collection of these travel accounts, including rare early editions.  Our online research guide, Images of Exploration, Discovery, and Early Settlement in the Pacific Northwest, introduces you to this collection and the fascinating stories of artists who accompanied explorers on historic voyages.  Like photographers and videographers today, these talented artists often wore more than one hat during the voyages, and some followed the project from start to finish.  Their illustrations became the first published images of the land and people of our region.


Nootka group in interior of house, Nootka Sound, British Columbia, in engraving made 1778 by John Webber. From James Cook’s A voyage to the Pacific Ocean.  Atlas, 1773-1784, pl. 42


John Webber 
Third voyage of James Cook, British (1776-1780)

John Webber, an Englishman of Swiss heritage, was the official expedition artist on Captain Cook’s third voyage from 1776 to 1780.  Upon return, Webber was responsible for reducing his drawings and paintings to scale for engravers. The Admiralty also hired him as “art director” for the 1784 publication, the duties of which included supervising the engravers and the printing of the plates.

Lieutenant Blondela and Gaspard Duché de Vancy 
Voyage of Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, French (1785-1788)

Gaspard Duchè de Vancy, official artist of the voyage of Jean Françoise Galaup de la Pérouse, from 1785 to 1788, was raised in Vienna and exhibited artworks at the Salon of Young Artists in Paris in 1781 and at the Royal Academy in London in 1784.  He was commissioned to execute several royal portraits including: Stanislaus of Poland, the secretary of the Kingdom of Naples, and Marie Antoinette.

A second artist, Lieutenant Blondela (first name unknown) was in the French military before joining the La Pérouse expedition.  While not officially assigned as artist to the expedition, Blondela’s talents were a great asset to the voyage’s visual record. La Pérouse commented on Blondela in his journal, “he applies himself with a degree of assiduity, and executes with an intelligence, order and neatness, that are deserving of the highest encomiums

Chinook women rocking baby suspended in cradleboard in Oregon.  Engraving made 1841 by A. T. Agate.  From Charles Wilkes’s Narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition,  1845, vol. 4, p. 338.


John Sykes, Harry Humphrys, Thomas Heddington, and Zachary Mudge
Voyage of George Vancouver, British (1791-1795)

A gross oversight in Voyage of British explorer George Vancouver was the lack of an officially commissioned artist. Fortunately, there were four crewmen aboard skilled enough to provide sketches and drawings that could be transformed into illustrations for the publication.   These men were John Sykes, Harry Humphrys, Thomas Heddington, and Zachary Mudge.  John Sykes, a midshipman, was the most prolific artist. He created over 90 drawings throughout the voyage and his are the first depictions of the Puget Sound area.  Artist, William Alexander, was hired later to redraw the sketches in preparation for the engraving.

Louis Choris
Voyage of Otto von Kotzebue, Russian (1815-1818)

Louis Choris, official expedition artist on the Voyage of Otto von Kotzebue, was only 20 when he when the voyage began. Upon return, Choris solicited subscribers, who included the kings of France and Prussia, to enable publication of his Voyage.


Webber_image- sea horses
“A party from His Majesty’s ship Resolution shooting sea-horses”. This large picture of walruses being shot for food was painted after John Webber’s return to London from Cook’s third voyage (1776–80), where he was the official expedition artist.


Friedrich Heinrich von Kittlitz and Aleksandr Postels
Voyage of Fedor Petrovich Litke, Russian (1826-1829)

Russian explorer Fedor Petrovick Litke hired artists and naturalists Friedrich Heinrich Baron von Kittlitz and Aleksandr Filippovich Postels, who both contributed to the artistic/scientific evidence of the voyage.  Kittlitz’s job in accompanying Litke was to “hunt, collect, describe, and illustrate birds.”  Returning from the voyage, Kittlitz spent time assembling materials for his own personal account of the voyage (published in 1858) as well as giving scientific lectures.

Postels is described in the crew sheet as Mineralogist and sketch-artist. He was key to the expedition, producing sketches of amphibians and fish, as well as recording botanical and ethnographic material.


Haida in canoes watch the Discovery on the rocks in Queen Charlotte Sound, British Columbia.  Engraving made in 1792 by artist Zachary Mudge.  From George Vancouver’s A voyage of discovery to the North Pacific Ocean,  1798, vol. 1, plate 6.


Alfred T. Agate and Joseph Drayton
Voyage of The United States Exploring Expedition/Wilkes Expedition, American (1838-1842)

Alfred T. Agate, born in New York, executed most of the drawings in the Wilkes Expedition expedition report. Soon after the end of the voyage he died, at age 33, in Washington D.C.

Joseph Drayton, another of the expedition artists, saw the drawings through to publication. He made the engravings, oversaw the coloring of the illustrations, as well as the printing and binding.   In addition, he made the paper on which the works, engravings, and charts are printed.


Choris_image2 faces
Portraits of three Aleuts, ca. 1822, by Louis Choris.  From Voyage pittoresque autour du monde, Paris, Impr. de Firmin Didot, 1822.


Read more here.  Visit Special Collections for a hands-on look these at rare materials.   Our collections are open to the public.