'A View taken in the bay of Oaite Peha [Vaitepiha] Otaheite [Tahiti]' ('Tahiti Revisited')

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.

Hodges produced several versions of this painting, of which the traditional Admiralty title has become 'Tahiti revisited' but his original title is recorded on the back of the canvas. This is a version created for the Admiralty after the original painted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1776 (now at Anglesey Abbey).

Hodges depicts the first anchorage at Tahiti on the voyage and reveals the beauty and peace of Vaitepiha Bay. The terrain was described as high and mountainous and covered with trees and shrubs. Jagged peaks of mountains rise up in the distance and in the middle distance a hut is visible by the bank of the river. A figure is included nearby on the promontory at the edge of the water. Since climate was regarded as the prime determinant of man's mental, moral and social life, the painting implies Tahitian life as a function of its tropical fertility.

This is underscored by Hodges' inclusion of several female figures prominently in the foreground. They bathe in the river and transform and reinforce the landscape as an image of sensual paradise with erotic charms. He has added more figures than in the original. The pagan statue, or 'tii', presides prominently over the girls in the foreground to the right as they prepare to bathe.

Hodges has attempted to introduce moral purpose and dignity to the landscape by presenting an image of Tahitian society untouched by European contact, since the image includes no hint of Cook's party. The inclusion of the shrouded corpse or 'tupapau' on the far right, implies that even in such a tropical idyll death is present. Such emphasis on the idyllic condition of Tahitian society prior to European contact was a political view that Hodges would have been wary of revealing, and was certainly not the view his works were expected to disseminate. Hodges used this personal interpretation of Tahiti to hint at the heady temptations of the island, which both Cook and the Admiralty would have wished to play down. These paintings attracted considerable public interest, and formed pendants to his images of boats of war.

Object Details

ID: BHC2396
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Pacific Encounters Gallery
Creator: Hodges, William
Places: Tahiti
Date made: 1775; 1776
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: 927 x 1384 mm; Frame: 1093 mm x 1562 mm x 92 mm; Weight: 32.8 kg

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