'A View of the Cape of Good Hope, Taken on the Spot, from on Board the 'Resolution', Capt Cooke'

(Updated, August 2018) Hodges' paintings of the Pacific are vivid records of British exploration. He was appointed by the Admiralty to record the places discovered on Cook's second voyage, undertaken in the 'Resolution' and 'Adventure', 1772-75. This was primarily in the form of drawings, with some oil sketches, many later converted to engravings in the official voyage account. He also completed large oil paintings for exhibition in London on his return, which exercised lasting influence on European ideas of the Pacific. The National Maritime Museum holds 26 oils relating to the voyage of which 24 were either painted for or acquired by the Admiralty.

Cook's main purpose on this expedition was to locate, if possible, the much talked-of but unknown Southern Continent and further to expand knowledge of the central Pacific islands, in which Hodges' records of coastal profiles were in part important for navigational reasons.

Cook arrived in Cape Town on 29 October 1772 and remained until 23 November to take on bread, wine and other provisions and overhaul and caulk the ships. He wrote that 'Mr Hodges employed himself here in drawing a view of the Cape Town and parts adjacent in oil colours'. This image shows the 'Adventure' at anchor, from 'Resolution', with Green Point at the western extremity of the bay. The Dutch fort near which Cook went ashore is lit by the sun on the left and imitates the square solidity of the mountain above. To the right, the tower of the church dominates and leads the eye up the valley between Table Mountain and the Sugar-Loaf or Lion's Head.

Although the painting falls within the naval tradition of coastal profiles, with close attention to topographical accuracy, it reveals a growing interest in atmospheric phenomena. This original response marked an important departure for the artist in the direction of 'plein-air' painting. It shows a sharpened perception of the light and air of the Cape, which required a different response to interpretation of English landscape. Thus the focus of the painting is no longer topographical or restricted to the depiction of town and fortifications alone, but addresses itself to the vortex of moving light and cloud that centred between Table Mountain and the Devil's Peak. Hodges's attention to atmospheric effects was probably encouraged by the scientific interests of his friend, William Wales, the Resolution's astronomer.

While often said to have been painted on board 'Resolution', this is unlikely given the level or refitting activity on the ship while in Table Bay in November 1772. Hodges certainly did a very similar preliminary drawing from the ship (now in the State Library of New South Wales), but Cook took quarters ashore in Cape Town during the visit and it is likely that Hodges probably also did this painting ashore, for crating-up with one or two others (including a small view of Funchal, Madeira, painted on board there). It was then shipped back to London in a home-bound Indiaman, forwarded to the Admiralty and exhibited in London (under the title given here) at the Free Society of Artists exhibition of 1774, a year before Cook's ships returned home. It is the largest canvas known to have been completed on the voyage.

Object Details

ID: BHC1778
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Hodges, William
Places: Cape of Good Hope
Vessels: Resolution (purchased 1771); Adventure (purchased 1771)
Date made: 1772
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Ministry of Defence Art Collection The Art and Science of Exploration, 1768-80
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 965 x 1244 mm; Frame: 1164 mm x 1452 mm x 92 mm

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