Geoff Quilley and John Bonehill (eds)
William Hodges, 1744-1797: the Art of Exploration.
Yale University Press.
This book describes itself as a catalogue to the exhibition, of the same name, held at Greenwich and New Haven, but it is much more than that: it is a valuable book in its own right for people unable to see the exhibition but wanting to know more about William Hodges and his paintings. However, it does not contain a biography of him, a serious failing, merely referring the reader to the difficult-to-obtain book The Life and Works of William Hodges, by Isabel Combs Stuebe (Garland Publishing Inc., 1979).
This book comprises 14 essays by 10 different contributors on how Hodges learnt to paint, how his style developed and the influences upon him can be seen in his works: before, during and after his time on Cook’s Second Voyage. The maritime context of the period is explored, as well as Hodges’ role as an anthropologist and historian. The research that went into developing the exhibition can be seen in several essays, but especially the one about how some paintings by him have been attributed to others, and vice-versa, and how opinion continues to be divided on which of his paintings were done during the Voyage and which were worked up in England after his return.
All of the paintings displayed at the two exhibition venues (not all are shown at both) are reproduced in colour with extensive notes about them. Many are familiar to Cook enthusiasts, but some have only recently come to light and never been published before. Whilst there is some repetition of information from Rüdiger Joppien and Bernard Smith’s great work on The Art of Captain Cook’s Voyages (Yale University Press, 1985), there is more analysis in the latest work.
Hodges was hired as a draughtsman to document Governor General Warren Hastings’s tour through northern India, and the many paintings from this period (and after) are discussed at length expanding our view of Hodges from that of being just a Pacific painter. Regrettably, many of the paintings of India, like those of the Pacific have been hidden from the public’s gaze in the two centuries since they were completed. This book reveals them in all of their glory, and goes some way to restoring our appreciation of the painter and the world that he saw.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 38, volume 28, number 1 (2005).