What’s this eighteenth-century print showing dancers on an island in the South Seas doing at the Connecticut Historical Society? Actually, there are two good reasons for its presence. One of the three men seated in the center of front row is probably John Ledyard, a young man from Groton, Connecticut, who sailed with the British explorer Captain James Cook on his third voyage of discovery in 1776-1779. The other reason is that the print belonged to Daniel Wadsworth, the Hartford philanthropist who founded one of America’s first art museums. Curiously, Wadsworth left his engravings of Captain Cook’s voyage to the Connecticut Historical Society in his will, rather than leaving them to the museum that he founded. This suggests that Wadsworth viewed the prints primarily as historical documents rather than as works of art. Today it’s all the fashion to use works of art as primary resources when doing historical research, but Wadsworth’s 1848 bequest proves that it’s really nothing new.
But What Does it Have to do with Connecticut?