'View in Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Bay, New Zealand'

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 expand knowledge of the central Pacific islands, in which Hodges' records of coastal profiles were in part important for navigational reasons.

This painting depicts the 'Resolution' moored alongside the shore in Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Bay, New Zealand, where Cook’s two ships arrived on 11 April 1773. The harbour was named after Richard Pickersgill, the 'Resolution's' third lieutenant, who observed its safety and convenience as an anchorage, made possible through the deep water close in to the shore. The area is shown thickly wooded with dense, cool temperate rain forest and Hodges has carefully delineated the botanical features of the exotic vegetation, ferns, creepers and giant forest trees. As Cook noted in his account, nature conveniently provided a large tree growing horizontally over the water that was transformed into a gangplank. Hodges has chosen this natural gangway as the subject of his painting as seen from the ship, as it reached the ship's gunwale. A heavy tackle from one of 'Resolution's' yardarms is shown both securing the ship to the tree and perhaps also supporting the flimsy bridge. Hodges has also created an unusual compositional device, using a section of the ship's hull in silhouette. This implies his vantage point as being either from the port quarter-gallery window of the cabin, looking forward, or given the low angle even from a boat under the stern.

The sunlight shining through the trees highlights the clearing that the 'Resolution's' astronomer, William Wales, and his assistants created in the forest to pitch their special observatory tent and provide a clear sky view for astronomical observation. The tent can be glimpsed in the clearing with some clothes hanging out to dry, taking advantage of the good weather. One of the sailors is depicted as he returns aboard from a smoking fire in the background on the left. He has possibly used the fire to cook a large blue fish, which he is holding his hand as he crosses the gangway. The image concentrates on the profound beauty of Dusky Bay, where Hodges spent a considerable amount of time painting and drawing. He has observed the sense of loneliness, mystery and grandeur that pervaded the place, in this romantic evocation of an aesthetic response to nature.

Dusky Bay proved a recurrent subject for Hodges, featuring also in BHC2371, BHC1907 and BHC1908. This was probably due to the sense of paradise that it evoked, as the first landfall made by Cook’s ships in New Zealand after an arduous sweep of the Antarctic Ice. X-rays of this painting made in 2004 revealed that Hodges had attempted to capture the extreme Antarctic scenery, with two icebergs clearly visible in a previous composition beneath ‘Pickersgill Harbour’. The unusually shaped iceberg to the left matches a drawing by voyage naturalist George Forster, and description by voyage Astronomer William Wales as like ‘an old square castle, one end of which had fallen into Ruins, and it had a Hole quite through it whose roof so exactly resembled the Gothic arch of an old Postern Gateway that I believe it would have puzzled an Architect to have built it truer’.

Object Details

ID: BHC2370
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Pacific Encounters Gallery
Creator: Hodges, William
Date made: 1773-1776; 1773-76 circa 1776
Exhibition: The Art and Science of Exploration, 1768-80
People: HM Admiralty
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 665 x 745 mm; Frame: 925 x 910 x 140 mm

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