William Merrett Hodges
William Hodges was an English landscape painter, most known for his sketches and paintings made from joining James Cook’s voyage to the pacific ocean. He has several artworks depicting the lands of Easter Island, the Antartic, Tahiti, and Table Bay.
Hodges was born on 28 October, 1744, and was the only child of a blacksmith. He had a small job as a child, working as an errand boy for William Shipley. He managed to gain some instruction while at Shipley’s Drawing School, and became Shipley’s assistant and pupil for three years, between 1763 and 1766. He quickly made progress, and his work began resembling his teacher’s so much that he is considered the most successful at creating fake Wilsons (referring to the Welsh painter Richard Wilson 1714-1782). He then left the school to live in London, and also for some time in Derby.
At this time he sold paintings of theatrical scenes, and was also able to exhibit his painting of the London Bridge at the Society of Artists along with another depiction of Speldhurst, Kent. In the next two years, he was able to also exhibit two scenes from Wales, along with illustrations of Switzerland and Rhine, but his London exhibitions were not as successful as he had hoped . Soon after, he received an invitation from James Cook to accompany him on his second voyage to the South Seas. James Cook was taking this voyage to determine whether Dalrymple’s Southern continent truly existed, and he needed an artist to paint the landscapes. Hodges happily accepted and set sail. He produced many wash paintings and sketches on the three-year journey.
When he returned back to London in 1775, the Admiralty hired him to finish his drawings and paintings and engrave them for the completion of James Cook’s journals. He completed his many large-scale oil paintings of the Pacific, and is now well-known for these paintings. Some of the paintings are still viewed in museums today. Hodges also created quite a few valuable scenes of the voyage’s members on the ship and the Pacific Islanders on the lands. Sadly, he received complaints from other artists who judged him for his strong contrast between shadow and light, which was uncommon in landscape painting at the time. They felt that his work looked unfinished and too rough.
In 1776, he began exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy. Hodges first entered a scene from Otaheite and also a few from New Zealand and other places within the following two years. At this time he married for the first time to Martha Nesbit on 11th May, 1776. Unfortunately she had died within one year, during childbirth. Two years later, he was convinced by Governor Warren Hastings to take a trip to India, making Hodges one of the first landscape painters from Britain to visit the Indian subcontinent. He lived there for six years and had stayed with Claude Martin in Lucknow in the year of 1783.
He returned to Europe in 1784, living in Queen Street, Mayfair, with some earnings he had saved. He created a studio and began exhibiting his series of scenes from India. In the same year of moving back, he married to a Miss Lydia Wright, but unfortunately she also died of miscarriage after only being married to Hodges for a few months. In the following year, on the first of December, 1785, he married for the last time to a young woman named Miss Car. Miss Car was very loved and praised by Hodge’s friends.
In the next year, Hodges became an associate of the Royal Academy and he soon became a member, exhibiting his artwork there until 1794. Hodges later began travelling across Europe for three years, including a visit St.Petersburg, Russia, sketching many places during his trip. He also began work on creating an illustrated book of his journey to India, and published the book in 1793. Nearing the end of 1794, he held a viewing of his own paintings in London. Hodges showed two new, large paintings he had created: The Effects of Peace and The Effects of War. At the time, Britain had begun fighting in the War of the First Coalition against the revolution in France.
Tensions were high at the time, and Hodges received a visit from Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of King George III. The Prince was deeply offended by the paintings and demanded that he should stop the exhibition. With such a censure from royalty, Hodges’ career ended at that point. He retired and moved to Devon. He invested with a local bank, but the bank was soon effected by the banking crisis of March, 1797. Hodges eventually died on March 6 of the same year. It was recorded that gout in his stomach had officially ended his life, but some people believe that he had overdosed on laudanum, killing himself. His wife could not handle her husband’s death and she died shortly afterwards, only a few months after him.