Tuhituhi: William Hodges, Cook's Painter in the South Pacific - review

by gabeatkinson / 07 February, 2013
Examines how alien landscapes and cultures are filtered through received European perceptions.
A View of Cape Stephens in Cook’s Straits (1776)

Laurence Simmons’s Tuhituhi is a multidimensional study of English artist William Hodges and his travels on James Cook’s 1772-75 Resolution voyage as official landscape painter. It’s another of the very good art books Otago University Press has been putting out in recent years.

Tuhituhi, which means “mark making”, was the name Maori gave Hodges when they saw him drawing. The central premise of the book is how alien landscapes and cultures are filtered through received European perceptions. It’s a typically postmodern viewpoint, but finds its origins in the modernism of Bernard Smith’s observations on early European artistic depictions of Australia. Personally, I’d debate the relevance to New Zealand, because even our most dramatic physical landscapes find fairly obvious parallels in those that were the subject of earlier European art, from Salvator Rosa to Hercules Seghers.

There is more value in applying this approach to the Pacific peoples, and it is with the Europeans’ cultural perceptions of Pacific peoples and vice versa that Simmons, head of the Film, TV and Media Studies Department at the University of Auckland, is primarily concerned. This isn’t so much a work of art history as an intellectual passeggiata like Simon Schama’s excellent Landscape and Memory (1995).

Geographer Jay Appleton’s silly “prospect-refuge theory” – the idea that we look at landscape paintings with our primitive brains analysing for resources and places to hide – rears its vapid head, which makes one wonder why perspective was a mathematically contrived invention and why landscape painting came so late on the scene. Simmons does tend to wander off into thickets of quotes from famous theoretical names when he should be asserting his own authorial voice, but for the most part, chapter by chapter, the narrative is anchored in discussions of individual paintings and notes from Cook’s journals.

Of more value for the general reader is the discussion of the Romantic notion of the Sublime – the awe-inspiring transcendence of nature described and analysed by Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant and others, and most dramatically demonstrated by the cover image, the rainbow-straddled waterfall in Hodges’s Dusky Bay (1775) and the waterspout in his A View of Cape Stephens in Cook’s Straits (1776), both of which are in the National Maritime Museum, London.

There is also plenty of useful discussion on the Picturesque, fascinating meditations on ethnography, slightly too many dilettantish detours in strange directions and far too many ideas jostling for space, but on the whole this is a very enjoyable read. It’s lavishly illustrated – although the format of the book is rather too small for the paintings – and we are left with a sense of what a remarkable individual Hodges was.


Andrew Paul Wood is an art writer and historian.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


The Trump family's Kremlin connection
76655 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z World

The Trump family's Kremlin connection

by Paul Thomas

From “nothing to see here” to a Cold War-era spy story played out in real life, the Trump family’s Kremlin connection is a source of fascination.

Read more
The Journey – movie review
76661 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

The Journey – movie review

by James Robins

A van isn’t a great vehicle for a drama on how old enemies ended the Troubles.

Read more
Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at the United Nations
76664 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Gaylene Preston on the difficulties of filming at …

by David Larsen

Tracking Helen Clark’s tilt for the top job at the United Nations, Gaylene Preston documented the creatures of the diplomatic world.

Read more
Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland Road
76815 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Jackie van Beek puts the gags aside for The Inland…

by Russell Baillie

Best known for her comedy roles, Jackie van Beek takes a dramatic detour in her feature-directing debut.

Read more
Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its centenary approaches
76427 2017-07-24 00:00:00Z Small business

Parisian Neckwear plays the long game, even as its…

by Rob O'Neill

Parisian Neckwear, founded in 1919, has survived depression, war, deregulation and a deluge of cheap imports. How? Just feel the cloth.

Read more
David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about murder of Swedish tourists
76738 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Crime

David Tamihere case: Key witnesses' doubts about m…

by Donna Chisholm

Nearly 30 years after young Swedish tourists Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen disappeared in the Coromandel key witnesses say the mystery haunts them.

Read more
Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and human exploitation collide
76728 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

Modern slavery and tourism: when holidays and huma…

by The Conversation

With the advent of orphanage tourism, travellers think they're doing good. But they can often just be lining the pockets of the orphanages' owners.

Read more
The Polish resistance fighter who volunteered for Auschwitz
76750 2017-07-23 00:00:00Z History

The Polish resistance fighter who volunteered for …

by Glyn Harper

A Polish soldier volunteered to be incarcerated at Auschwitz so he could report on the Nazis’ activities inside the death camp.

Read more