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William Hodges, 1744–1797
A View of Matavai Bay in the Island of Otaheite [Tahiti]
Former Title(s):

Tahitian War Galleys in Matavai Bay, Tahiti

Matavai Bay in the Island of Otaheite, Tahiti

Matavai Bay, Tahiti

A view of Matavie Bay in the island of Otahiete [1776, Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhibition catalogue]
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
36 × 54 inches (91.4 × 137.2 cm), Frame: 42 1/4 × 60 1/4 × 2 1/2 inches (107.3 × 153 × 6.4 cm)

Signed and dated, lower left: "Hodges 1776"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
bay | boats | cliffs | galleys (watercraft) | hills | landscape | mountains | ocean | regalia | sail | sea | Tahitian
Associated Places:
French Polynesia | Matavai Bay | Tahiti
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

The son of a blacksmith, William Hodges was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to the Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson. In 1772 the artist joined Captain James Cook’s second expedition to the South Pacific as a draftsman. During the grueling three-year voyage on the Resolution, Hodges produced a remarkable series of drawings and paintings of the indigenous peoples and landscapes of the South Seas, whose existence and physical appearance had previously been in the realm of fantasy for Europeans. After his return to London, Hodges exhibited this luminous view of Matavai Bay, Tahiti, at the Royal Academy. The painting, which depicts Tahitian war galleys, proclaims Hodges’s ambitions to be a chronicler of the course of the rapidly expanding British Empire but also reveals his sympathetic attitude toward the indigenous peoples he depicted, his sensitivity to light and atmosphere, and his poetic sensibility.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

n 1772 William Hodges took to sea on the HMS Resolution as official artist on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific. In August of 1773, the explorers arrived in Tahiti, where the artist encountered a spectacular natural beauty and fecundity. Hodges later used his sketches to create resplendent paintings that were instrumental in establishing the vision of Polynesia as an untainted tropical paradise in the European mind’s eye. This classical depiction of Matavai Bay would seem to equate Tahiti with a mythical Arcadia. Nowhere in this picture can one glimpse a Western officer or vessel. Rather, the focus is on the physical and sensual ease of the young Tahitian men in the foreground and the three magnificent Tahitian war galleys in the middle and far distance.

Gallery label for the Critique of Reason: Romantic Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

William Hodges, RA (1744-1797) (Yale Center for British Art, 2005-01-27 - 2005-04-24) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

William Hodges, RA (1744-1797) (National Maritime Museum, 2004-07-06 - 2004-11-21) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Behold the Sea (Yale Center for British Art, 2003-06-14 - 2003-09-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Emma Barker, Art & visual culture, 1600-1850 : academy to avant-garde, , Tate Publishing, London, 2012, pp. 282-84, pl. 7.21, N6756 .A78 2012 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, p. 116-117, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Nathan Flis, William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 144, fig. 92, AM343 .W545 2018 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Eleanor Hughes, Spreading Canvas : Eighteenth-Century British Marine Painting, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2016, p. 56, fig. 41, ND 1373.G74 S67 2016 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 12 (v.1)..., no. 37, N5220.M45 R69 1964 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Geoff Quilley, Empire to Nation, Art, History and the Visualization of Maritime Britain 1768 -1829 , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011, pp. 63-65, fig. 27, N72 N38 Q55 2011 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Geoff Quilley, William Hodges, 1744-1797 : The art of exploration : catalogue to the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 5 July-21 November, 2004 and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 27 January-24 April 2005 , , Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2004, p. 121, no. 31, NJ18 H646 +W55 2004 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Isabel Combs Stuebe, Life and works of William Hodges, , Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1979, pp. x, 144-45, no. 84, fig. 62, NJ18 H646 S75 1979 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The critique of reason : Romantic art, 1760-1860 : March 6-July 26, 2015, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2015, [p. 8], fig. 12, V 2574 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p. 29 (v.1), no. 105, pl. 30, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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