Sir Roland Penrose

The Last Voyage of Captain Cook


Not on display

Sir Roland Penrose 1900–1984
Plaster and steel on wooden base
Object: 692 × 660 × 825 mm
Presented by Mrs Gabrielle Keiller through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982

Display caption

The Last Voyage of Captain Cook was among Roland Penrose’s contributions to the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. The conjunction of disparate elements was typical of the objects made by surrealists in the 1930s. The plaster torso came from an art suppliers, while the globe was made by a bicycle repairer. Penrose later suggested that the striped torso represented the idea of woman being like the Earth. Among other associations, the work may suggest that Cook was an explorer of the mysterious and the erotic.

Gallery label, September 2016

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Catalogue entry

T03377 The Last Voyage of Captain Cook 1936/67

Oil on wood, plaster and steel 27 1/4 × 26 × 33 1/2 (692 × 660 × 825) Inscribed ‘Roland Penrose 1936–1967/assisted by Anthony’ on base b.r. and ‘The Last Voyage/of Captain Cook’ on base centre
Presented by Mrs Gabrielle Keiller through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1982
Prov: Purchased from the artist by Mrs Keiller, 1979
Exh: First International Surrealist Exhibition, New Burlington Gallery, June–July 1936 (286); Roland Penrose and Ithell Colquhoun, Mayor Gallery, June 1939 (6); Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, Hayward Gallery, January–March 1978 (14.44, repr. pp.367, 370); Roland Penrose, AC tour, Fermoy Arts Centre, King's Lynn, July–August 1980, ICA, August–September 1980, Arnolfini, Bristol, October–November 1980, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, November–December 1980, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, December 1980–January 1981 (12, repr.); Roland Penrose, BC, Fundacio Joan Miró Centre d'Estudis d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona, February–March 1981 (14, repr.); Paul Eluard et ses amis peintres 1895–1952, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, November 1982-January 1983 (no catalogue no., repr. 159)
Lit: Benjamin Péret, Surrealist Exhibition, Gordon Fraser Gallery, Cambridge, November 1937 (n.p.); Marcel Jean, The History of Surrealist Painting, Paris, 1959, p.271, repr.; Simon Wilson, Surrealist Painting, 1976, no.42, fig.32; Richard Shone, ‘Roland Penrose at the ICA’, Burlington Magazine, CXXII, no.931, 1980, p.705; John Golding, ‘Obituary: Roland Penrose 1900–84’, Burlington Magazine, CXXVI, no.980, p.699; Also repr: International Surrealist Bulletin, no.4, September 1936 (on back cover); Herbert Read, Surrealism, 1936, repr. no.75; London Bulletin, no.17, June–July 1939, p.16; André Pieyre de Mandiargues, ‘Objets Surréalistes’, XXc siècle, no.42, June 1974, p.25; Roland Penrose, Scrap Book 1900–81, 1981 (repr. 9, 143 and repr. in col. 142); British Surrealism Fifty Years On, Mayor Gallery 1986 (on back cover)

‘Captain Cook's Last Voyage’ was made during 1936 and was first shown at the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London in 1936; André Breton was photographed next to it when he delivered his opening speech at that exhibition. Penrose had returned from Paris, where he had become close friends with several of the surrealists, in 1935 and began work immediately both on the organisation of the exhibition and this work.

Penrose incorporated a plaster model that he had purchased in Paris; the white plaster bust was sold as a decorative object in many shops around Montmartre. He commissioned the metal globe from a bicycle repairer in London. The first version was destroyed in storage during the war and the artist made a second version, with his son Anthony Penrose, in 1967. The artist made the base, giving it both a rounded and sharp profile to suggest movement and to reduce the sense of it being hard and fixed. The saw came from a tool he had in the workshop.

Penrose found it difficult to define the meaning of the work, which he regards as poetic, and which developed as the work was being made rather than established or brought out in advance. He suggests that the woman is equivalent to the earth (la terre is feminine) and the painted stripes on the body and the base are the strata of the earth revealed by cutting (also suggested by the saw handle). The body and base are also sliced, cut, in order to represent movement: he was anxious to avoid stasis. They are imprisoned in a scientific cage, the metallic globe. The title was an invention of the artist, a ‘surrealistic title’ made to name the work for the International Surrealist Exhibition.

This work is the most important of a number of objects made by Penrose in the mid-1930s.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986



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