William Hodges: Exploration and Imperialism Essay

William Hodges: Exploration and Imperialism Essay

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William Hodges opened the South Seas to the European imagination in the eighteenth century. His landscape paintings of exotic beauty changed Europeans’ outlook on the world beyond Europe and ignited their yearnings for a paradise, leading to the surge of Western imperialism (Quilley 2004, 1-4). Marking a departure from the classical landscape tradition was Hodges’ en plein air technique, which infused his mythical imagery with natural light in the open air and richly compelling beauty peculiar to the southern hemisphere. In presenting historic events, William Hodges proceeded with intuitive understanding of the whole, not with particularities of details. Some contemporary art critiques say Hodges is just an artist of the Enlightenment, who danced to the chorus of “Rule Britannia” (Jones 2004) and accelerated the death of the ancient South Pacific world. For all these historical limitations, however, he, as the first professional landscape artist to represent the Pacific, deserves a solid place in British art history.
Hodges was the most widely traveled artist of his day, representing extensive global territories so profusely. Apprenticed to landscape painter Richard Wilson, he was on James Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific as a draughtsman in 1772 (Smith 1992, 115). This expedition artist, who was employed by the Admiralty, produced many portrait sketches and large-scale landscape oil paintings of coastal scenes in the South Pacific and the Antarctic. In 1778, he visited India as a first professional landscape painter, and worked for the East India Company for six years. Later in life, he traveled to Europe, and briefly worked as a landscape painter at the Pantheon Opera House in St. Petersburg, Russia (Smith 1992, 13). Hodges ...


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... and Civilization: James Cook, William Hodges, and the Return to the Pacific (London, Cambridge University Press, 2007) p 62

Hodges, William. Travels in India: during the years 1780, 1781, 1782, & 1783 (London, printed for the author, 1783) p 155

Jones, Jonathan. “William Hodges” The Guardian. (July 2004)

Lockwood, Victoria. Tahitian Transformation: Gender and Capitalist Development in a Rural Society (Boulder, Rienner Publishers Inc., 1993) p 175

Quilley, Geoff and Bonehill, John. William Hodges 1744-1797: The Art of Exploration (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2004) p 1-4, 21-26, 75, 109


Smith, Bernard. Imagining the Pacific: In the Wake of the Cook Voyages (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1992) p 13, 65, 102, 115, 124

Smith, Bernard. European Vision and the South Pacific (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1983) p 62

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