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This study of the art of William Hodges opens fresh theoretical perspectives on the representational problems raised by these early paintings produced in the South Pacific. Following Pacific Island historians of the 1960s, it argues that it is possible to read the texts and visual material produced from early South Seas encounters against the grain, as moments of cross-cultural exchange that challenge postcolonial complacencies.
Tuhituhi is presented in sections that follow the geographical and chronological progression of Cook's voyage on the Resolution, for which William Hodges was hired as official artist, Cook's 'landskip painter’. Painters like Hodges found themselves staring again and again in disbelief at landscapes and seascapes that stretched 18th-century conventions of painting, such as the 'picturesque', the 'sublime' and the 'beautiful'. Each chapter of Tuhituhi focuses on the close reading of a significant painting of a South Pacific location by Hodges. The last chapter considers the important influence of Hodges' work on a series of paintings by the major twentieth-century New Zealand painter Colin McCahon.