Completed British 18th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 40 Could this Italian landscape be an early work by William Hodges (1744–1797)?

Topic: Artist

Looking at this painting in the Ferens Art Gallery recently, I wondered if there was any mileage in it possibly being an early work by William Hodges, as one of Richard Wilson’s pupils.

It was more the painting and colouration than the composition that prompted the thought, especially the distant background. Hodges's isolated trees later got much more angular, but this one is heading that way. The Art UK image is too blue: it’s a rather warmer picture with more ochre in the background impasto, for example. Does anyone have other views for or against?

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The former attribution, ‘Richard Wilson (follower of)’, has been replaced by ‘William Hodges (attributed to)’.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Robin Simon,

Good thinking, Pieter! I shall have good look at this in so far as I can cowering away at home. But the spare composition hits an immediate button.

Martin Hopkinson,

He had an unsuccessful one man show of 25 pictures at Orme's Gallery in London in December 1794 - that night not have included older pictures
Ingamells should record any visits to Italy
Stone pines seem to be found in many Mediterranean countries

James Mitchell,

Pieter, I fully agree with your attribution. It's one of those pictures where he's in full Richard Wilson mode, and yet he manages to leave his own distinctive 'imprimatur' on it, notably the way the paint seems to 'run' in a few places. We have a good copy by Hodges of Wilson's 'Falls at Tivoli' (at Dulwich) and it bears all the same hallmarks. Furthermore, as I understand it from Isabel Coombs Stuebe (monograph on Hodges, 1979?), there is no evidence that, even though he had sailed around the world (!), Hodges ever went to Italy, but this did not prevent him from doing Italianate views.

Thanks James: correct - he didn't go to Italy, or leave England I think before sailing with Cook on his second Pacific voyage (1772-75), and after that it was just (!) to India to my best recollection. The show that Martin mentions in 1794 was the one that was intended to recoup his fortunes afte that but which the Duke of York closed down because his large 'Effects of Peace' and 'Consequences of War' paintings, its centrepieces, were judged radical and unpatriotic in the early days of the French Revolutionary War. Quite apart from the show's failure, it made the large subscription prints done from these two paintings more wasted money and the result was that he sold up both the show and the rest of his stock -for disappointingly little -, retreated to Devon and invested in a small bank which was then itself brought down by a general crash in 1797: he caught a chill riding over to close it down, died shortly afterwards as a result (though suicide also rumoured), as did his wife before long, leaving their orphaned children in dire straits.

If the Ferens picture is Hodges, then it might be 'studio stock' but I can't remember -nor have reference to hand- where his sale was or if there's a known catalogue of it. My wife (oil paintings conservator) points out that the impasto has been flattened in old hot-lining, producing characteristic 'moating' effects around original high points that the raking light by which I took the phone-snaps shows up.

The 'Peace' and 'War' prints are as rare as hens teeth: NMM was offered copies (trimmed of all lettering) just too late to do more than mention them in the catalogue of its Hodges show in 2004 (ed. G. Quilley and J. Bonehill): here are the online links to them, since not widely known:

My apologies for the confused captioning of the NMM prints above: there is an editing duplication / confusion (inc of the numbering) in the opening para which I hadn't noticed and which I'll get fixed as soon as possible, though things clarify further down.

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a gap in his exhibition history at the RA between 1779 and 1784
Did Hodges exhibit these Wilsonian confections then at commercial outlets?

Martin Hopkinson,

The middle ground reminds me a little of his friend Wright of Derby's Caserta which is a made-up view

Martin: Hodges left 'for' India in either late 1778/ or early '79, arriving in January 1780, and 'from' India late in November 1783, so was presumably back in England mid-year '84, which accounts for the exhibiting gap. (I'd forgotten he also later went to St Petersburg but haven't checked by what route, though not relevant here, since this picture would be early not late.)

Picking this up again: a brief email exchange on something else with Charles Greig (who knows Hodges well) elicited the following comment from him on this painting: 'I agree there is a fair possibility that it is by Hodges although Johnson Carr (said to be Wilson’s most promising student but he died young in 1765) is also a strong candidate.'

Carr (or Kerr, b. 1743), a northern England man who was a Wilson's pupil c. 1757-63, died of TB in January 1765. According to ODNB he is only known by one chalk drawing of 'Westminster Abbey from Pimlico' ( exh. 1948, priv. coll.), and 1807 report by Farington of his hand contributing to a painting by Wilson, so demonstrating that anything is by him is problematic.

It would interesting to have Paul Spencer-Longhurst's thoughts from a Wilson viewpoint,

Paul Spencer-Longhurst says that it appears in W. G. Constable’s 1953 monograph on Wilson as by him (pl. 97b), but that when he and Kate Lowry saw it in early 2018 they would go no further than ascribing it to a follower. It had also been rejected by Sir Ellis Waterhouse.

He will give it some further thought and hopes to comment further as soon as he has a chance.

Paul Spencer-Longhurst agrees that it could be by Hodges, cautioning that it is a personal opinion and far from definitive. He writes, ‘In the absence of an identified subject the relevance of a non-visit to Italy is perhaps marginal but stylistically it ticks many of the right boxes. However, the nearest compositional comparison seems to be The Tomb and Distant View of Rajmahal Hills of about 1781 (Tate T00690) and not much else.’

Since this has generally been a matter of personal opinions from people with reason to know about Hodges, or Wilson, mine would be to to retain the current 'follower of Richard Wilson' but add '(possibly William Hodges)'. What's the collection view, since I doubt this is going any further as regards stylistic-parallels evidence?

Marcie Doran,

I see that my link no longer works. Here's a link to a print of this scene that was published in 1938.

The original of the print was owned by Frederick John Nettlefold (1867–1949).


Here's a website that shows some images from the first three volumes of prints of Nettlefold's art collection. Works by Wilson would have been in volume IV.

Various websites indicate that the landscape was c. 1756.


Surely Nettlefold was the donor of this work in 1948.

He once owned the following works by or attributed to Wilson that are on Art UK:

Osmund Bullock,

That book image is useful in showing just how terrible the Art UK image is, and not just in colouration. However, I think calling it a 'print' confuses the issue - it is a photographic illustration of an original painting (doubtless ours) once owned by Nettlefold. You're probably right that he was the donor, but that doesn't help the question being asked. We already knew that it had previously been attributed to Wilson, but that has since been rejected by several (see Marion 06/05/2021 14:26). This discussion seeks to move on from there towards a more plausible attribution.

Jacob Simon,

I have enjoyed looking at William Hodges's work on Art UK. Most of his small-scale paintings were done on his Pacific voyage. I note that our painting is much the same size as these. I note that our painting is described as “Italian Landscape with a Stone Pine”. But is it an Italian landscape? Had Hodges ever seen a stone pine?

On the attribution, I agree with several contributors that something along the lines “possibly William Hodges” would be appropriate. I guess it will be difficult to take the discussion much further.

Yes: more old unfinished business. Isobel Coombs Stuebe (1979) was very thorough in her Hodges sale-record cataloguing. She fully listed his winding-up sale at Christie's in 1795 and the appearanc of works in all others she could then trace. Many items appearing in them were just called 'Landscape' and otherwise unidentifiable, and neither this one nor anything that might plausibly be it are in her survey. Her only mention of the Ferens Art Gallery is in connection with a 20th c. exhibition loan to it of a 'View in Madeira' (from the Hickman Bacon collection). Nettlefold does not figure either.

So its a case solely resting on opinion, not capable of documentary proof. 'Follower of Wilson' isn't in doubt and given the views expressed here the safe option looks like adding 'possibly William Hodges', even if some might be bolder and say 'probably'.

Perhaps the collection is now able to join the party and help wind this up, inc. confirming what looks like the Nettlefold provenance pointed out by Marcie.

Marcie Doran,

Please take a look at this work that used to be attributed to Richard Wilson but that was sold as by Hodges. It was in the Christie's auction of 3 December 2008 (lot 180).

The work has many elements that are similar to those in the Art UK work, including the branches of two trees that are side-by-side. Notice the shape of the tree in the dark green circle (beside the yellow circle) in the lower panel. It seems to be in the form of a stone pine tree.

That work was later sold at Sotheby's (lot 144, 10 April 2013).


The attached article from 1946 interested me, with its comparison of a work by Hodges and a photograph.

Those are interesting finds Marcie. The tree comparison to the right (apart from a third one being added) in the 'monks' painting is very close, especially in the pattern of the branches, including the more spindly one having a branch out to the right about a quarter of the way below where the trunks cross. Despite the 'monks' one being rather stiff and more elaborate, the parallels are rather close to dismiss as just coincidental. I also don't think the specific pine species is relevant, only the visual form.

Jacob Simon,

I agree with Pieter that Marcie's tree comparison is interesting and strengthens the attribution to Hodges himself. What is so difficult from an online image is to gain an idea of the quality of the handling of the paint, a difficulty compounded by the condition of the painting as outlined by Pieter (26/03/2020).

This question is boiling down to one of terminology. The collection (and Art UK) should have name conventions which include how to consistently describe attributions/followers etc. We seem to be moving to an 'Attributed to William Hodges' scenario. But something less strong might be desirable.

However, without an acknowledged expert on Hodges studying the painting we may get no further.

Charles Greig has the best knowledge of Hodges from a 'manner' point of view. He is not hard to contact though I'm not going to post his email address here (if still the right one) but it's really up to the collection to ask if he'd be willing to look at it in the flesh. It's in their interest as a potential 'discovery' and Jacob's point above as to whether the assumption of its being early and 'Italian' is correct, rather than perhaps later and not is also relevant should he do so.

If or when that might happen may take longer than this discussion should be left open without knowing it will do so at all. So it is perhaps better to canvass what the collection would like to do in the meantime. The other options (except 'no change') seem to be:

1. Follower of Richard Wilson (possibly William Hodges)
2. Follower of Richard Wilson (probably William Hodges)
3. William Hodges (attributed to)

Jacob Simon,

I think the evidence points to no. 3.

Apologies to John Bonehll and to all the contributors above for not adding his comments to the Discussion earlier. He has said to me in two emails:

"Many thanks for forwarding me this, it's certainly an interesting thing. As you say, it's not the best image, but the possible identification with Hodges seems more than plausible to me. Although Pieter says that it was the handling etc rather than the composition that prompted the thought, for me it seems a very Hodges-like composition (reminding me of the Rajmahal picture in the Tate for instance, but others too). Not sure that it's necessarily an Italian scene (?), but does have some things in common with Hodges' Madeira capriccios perhaps? Hodges' application of paint etc is very distinctive, so it would be good either to see it or failing that some hi res pictures."

"Just had a quick re-read of some of the remarks already posted, and would probably add that Hodges does appear to have visited the continent before joining the Cook voyage, though probably not making it as far south as Italy, showing views along the Rhine at the Society of Artists in 1772. These pictures were most likely done for 2nd Viscount Palmerston, who was subsequently instrumental in Hodges’ appointment to the expedition to the South Seas. He does also seem to have travelled to Russia in the early 1790s, presumably looking to appeal to Catherine’s Anglophile tastes? But I’ve struggled in vain to find anything out about that trip, though we can almost certainly say it didn’t meet with much success!"

Hi res pictures of details would certainly help an attribution.

Andrew, please thank John Bonehill and say I will send you a good high-resolution image to share with him (not the one on Art UK, which needs to be replaced).

John Bonehill, co-organiser of the 2004 Hodges exhibition, has seen the high resolution image of the painting and is happy to support an 'attributed to William Hodges' description but not to commit himself further. I think this is the most authoritative conclusion we are likely to arrive at.

I think that's a good course. If Charles Greig also manages to see it at some point that would be another authoritative view but, even if not, a specific and certainly plausible 'name' is a better basis for future debate than just 'follower of Wilson'. It also means that, in searches, it will come up directly linked with Hodges. Leaving it bracketed with Wilson isn't helping in any direction.