A Journey in a Painting - William Hodges in Tahiti
Location: Anglesey Abbey
Address: Quy Rd, Lode, Cambridge CB25 9EJ
When we think of Tahiti, we immediately think of the paintings of Gauguin. But another painter reached the legendary island of Polynesia before him, offering Europeans with a desire to get away, a vision to match it. We’re speaking of none other than the British artist William Hodges, the artist/traveller who took part in the second expedition of Captain Cook in the South Pacific. On the invitation of the British Admiral, Hodges was to create drawings and paintings to depict the landscapes and life-styles of lands once unknown to Europeans. It was 1772 and Tahiti must have truly been an uncontaminated island. The artist showed nature and culture in large oil paintings such as the View of Maitavie Bay, Otaheite, Tahiti, managing to mix the lightness of landscape painting with the thirst for knowledge of Illuminism. However, there is one painting that stands above the rest in embodying the experience - the famed View of Oaitepeha Bay, Tahiti, today held in the Abbey of Anglesey in Cambridge. Here, an idyllic tropical world of palms, beautiful shores and luxurious vegetation is revealed to the West, as an unusual idol overlooks the scene. But if we look closely at the painting, we find a cadaver wrapped in a sheet on the right - the ideal of Tahiti is broken by death because, as it would seem Hodges wishes to explain, paradise doesn’t exist even on the edge of the world.
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