'A View of the Island of New Caledonia in the South'

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. After his second visit to the Society Islands (Tahiti), Cook briefly explored the New Hebrides. He was returning south towards New Zealand when, on 4 September 1774, he discovered New Caledonia and landed on the east side of the 250-mile long island, spending the following month surveying and recording the island.

The view in this painting corresponds to some degree to Cook's extended description of that seen from the summit of one of the hills, when some of his party walked into the country on 7 September 1774. This image suggests that Hodges was a member of this party, who were greatly impressed by the beauty of the scene. It is thought to have been painted from a lost sketch which Cook described as very 'accurately delineated', and parallels his description of the desolate landscape of the rocky hills, with gnarled trees and dried grasses. Hodges's interpretation may have been inspired by the romantic possibilities of the view. In addition to the panoramic landscape, he includes a number of birds in flight and a lone figure holding a spear on the far right. In the clearing in the middle distance several other tiny figures are discernible and in the far distance below the 'Resolution' lies at anchor with three sailing canoes nearby. The implication is that the New Hebrideans are insufficiently developed to cultivate their lush surroundings. This contrasts to the European technological expertise embodied by the 'Resolution' in the bay, or seen by Cook's party on their return to Tahiti in April 1774, when they had found the islanders preparing for war (see BHC2395).

The picture affords a marked contrast to Hodges's other work painted both on the voyage and afterwards, in 1776 and 1777. The shaded hills in the foreground are painted in rich sienna and putty tones that contrast sharply with the diffused pastel colours of the distant coastline and sea. The dark masses of foreground foliage are broken at intervals to capture the flickering effects of strong light, which may have been in response to the criticism his work received at the Royal Academy in 1776. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778. It is one of four (or two pairs) for the Admiralty which are all of the same size, the others being BHC1932, BHC1906 and BHC2371.

Object Details

ID: BHC2377
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Hodges, William
Date made: 1777-1778; 1777-78
Exhibition: The Art and Science of Exploration, 1768-80
People: HM Admiralty
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Frame: 1590 mm x 2145 mm x 120 mm;Overall: 85.6 kg;Painting: 1380 x 1935 mm
Parts: 'A View of the Island of New Caledonia in the South'

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