British 18th C, except portraits, London: Artists and Subjects 19 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


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?

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