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William Hodges RA (1744 - 1797)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

William Hodges was born in London in 1744 and learnt to draw at William Shipley’s school which he attended from 1755. He was quick to learn new techniques and came to the attention of the landscape painter Richard Wilson, who took him on as an assistant aged fourteen.

On leaving Wilson’s studio in 1765, Hodges joined the Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain where he exhibited for some years. Between 1772-5 he worked as draughtsman on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific, making sketches and paintings of the islands and indigenous peoples. On his return to England, Hodges supervised the engraving of these works as illustrations for Cook’s official account of the voyage, published in 1779. He was also employed by the Admiralty for a further two years after arriving back from the Pacific, commissioned to undertake large-scale paintings based on the voyage, some of which he exhibited at the Royal Academy.

In 1779, Hodges travelled to India where he remained for six years. During this time he travelled widely and recorded landscape scenes and architectural sites of interest. Hodges produced several volumes of prints based on his time in India, which were published in the 1780s and 1790 and circulated widely, shaping British perceptions of India at this time.

Hodges’ years abroad were very lucrative for him, and in 1784 he was able to establish his own studio in the fashionable district of Mayfair in London. In 1785, he married Ann Mary Carr, a pianist, with whom he had five children. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1786 and became a full Member in 1789, exhibiting until 1794, just a few years before his death.

Over time, Hodges’ family, lifestyle and ambitious publications put pressure on his financial resources. In his latter years he also produced large-scale literary works, including several depictions of Shakespearian scenes which were exhibited at John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.

After the disastrous reception in 1794 of two large paintings that aimed to elevate landscape painting as a means to convey moral values, which resulted in the Duke of York demanding the closure of their exhibition, Hodges ceased to paint and moved to Brixham in Devon. There he opened a bank in 1795 but this enterprise was short-lived due to financial difficulties. He died suddenly in 1797, with his wife surviving him by just a few months.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography

Hodges was employed by the British Admiralty as the official draughtsman on Captain Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific (1772-5), where he made extensive paintings and drawings of the indigenous people and cultures. He continued to be employed by the Admiralty for two years after his return to England in order to produce large-scale oil paintings based on the scenes he recorded on the voyage.

Hodges travelled to India in 1779 where he remained for six years, travelling and documenting scenery and landmarks. On his return to England in 1785, he began publishing a volume of drawings he had made in India and subsequently engraved, Select Views in India in the Years 1780-1783 (1785-88). This was one of several published volumes of engravings that Hodges produced based on his travels in India, generating considerable wealth for the artist.

He was possibly the ‘William Hodges’ who subscribed to Olaudah Equiano’s memoirs, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), a key work in the abolitionist movement (see Notes, 1).

Notes

  1. Equiano, Olaudah. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by himself. …, (London, 1789); https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CW0101534748/ECCO?u=lonlib&sid=bookmark-ECCO&xid=a950a2e1&pg=1 (accessed March 2, 2022).

Relevant ODNB entries

Cust, L. H., and Lindsey Macfarlane. “Hodges, William (1744–1797), painter.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 2 Mar. 2022. https://www-oxforddnb-com.lonlib.idm.oclc.org/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13425

Profile

Royal Academician

Born: 28 October 1744 in London, England, United Kingdom

Died: 6 March 1797

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 6 November 1786

Elected RA: 13 February 1787

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by William Hodges in the RA Collection

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Works after William Hodges in the RA Collection

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Works associated with William Hodges in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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