Captain James Cook, 1728-79

A head-and-shoulders portrait to left in captain's undress uniform, 1774-83. The arrangement of his buttons in pairs shows the sitter to be a captain of under three years' seniority.

Cook returned from his second Pacific voyage in the rank of Commander on 30 July 1775 and was promoted to Captain on 9 August. This portrait may therefore have been executed by Hodges during the return journey and the uniform finished back in England, or it may all have been done in England before Cook departed on his last voyage on 12 July 1776.

Hodges had been the official artist appointed to record the places discovered on Cook's second voyage, undertaken in 'Resolution' and 'Adventure', 1772-75. However, he was re-employed by the Admiralty immediately on his return, both to work up his sketches for publication in the voyage proceedings and to paint further pictures for them, tasks which occupied him until late 1778. Either scenario is therefore possible.

Although the painting relates to an engraving of 1777, made by James Basire as frontispiece to the second voyage proceedings, there are a number of differences between it and the print. The latter may therefore be after another version or a drawing, both unknown. Portraits by Hodges are rare and the majority from Cook's voyages are of Pacific people carried out in pencil or in red chalk. Of the three surviving oil portraits that were painted from life (two others formerly attributed, of American Indians, now being discounted), there is boldness and directness in treatment of the subject. Here, the artist has used light and shadow to present a strong portrait tinged with a hint of darkness. The painting's first owner was probably Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser (d. 1796), Cook's friend and patron, since circumstantial evidence suggests that it was in his Buckinghamshire house (The Vache, where he also erected a well-known monument to Cook) by the time his son sold the property in 1826. It was none the less completely unrecorded until 1986, when sold in Ireland by the McCalmont family who had purchased The Vache some time before 1902 and are presumed to have acquired it among the contents.

The origin of the caption at top left is unknown although it may be near-contemporary.

Object Details

ID: BHC4227
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Pacific Encounters Gallery
Creator: Hodges, William
Vessels: Resolution (purchased 1771); Adventure (purchased 1771)
Date made: 1775-1776; 1775-76
Exhibition: North-West Passage
People: Cook, James
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Acquired with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 762 mm x 635 mm; Frame: 906 mm x 818 mm x 100 mm; Weight: 13.4 kg

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