William Hodges (1744-1797), painter and Royal Academician, born in London in 1744, was only child of a smith, who kept a small shop in St. James's Market. He was employed as errand-boy in Shipley's drawing school, where he managed to learn drawing. Richard Wilson, R.A., noticed him, and took him to be his assistant and pupil. Hodges made rapid progress. On leaving Wilson he resided in London, and also for a time at Derby, where he painted some scenes for the theatre.
In 1766 he exhibited at the Society of Artists a view of London Bridge and another of Speldhurst, Kent, in 1768 two views in Wales, and other views in 1770 and 1771. In 1772 he sent some views on the Rhine and in Switzerland. In the same year he obtained, through the interest of Lord Palmerston, the post of draughtsman to the second expedition to the South Seas under Captain Cook. He returned in 1775, and was employed by the admiralty in finishing his drawings, and superintending the engraving of them (by Woollett and others) for the published account of Captain Cook's voyages. Some of his pictures from the South Seas are still preserved in the admiralty.
In 1776 he first exhibited at the Royal Academy, sending a view in Otaheite, and in 1777 some views in New Zealand and elsewhere. In 1778 he went to India under the patronage of Warren Hastings, remained there about six years, and painted a number of views of the most remarkable objects and scenery. On his return to England in 1784 he brought a number of these with him, which were engraved, some on a large scale, by J. Browne and Morris; a set was executed in aquatint by himself, and published in 1786, and smaller copies appear in the 'European Magazine' and elsewhere. Humboldt, in his 'Cosmos,' says that the sight of Hodges's Indian views was one of the inducements which led him to travel.
In 1793 Hodges published an account of his 'Travels in India' during the years 1780-3, with plates from his drawings; the book was afterwards translated into French. In 1784 Hodges settled in Queen Street, Mayfair, where he built himself a studio. In 1786 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, and an academician in 1789; he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy up to 1794. Hodges painted several ambitious landscapes, in which he imitated both Wilson's force and negligence; his work suffers from want of accuracy. Figures were introduced into his landscapes by Romney, Gilpin, and others. Some were engraved, such as a scene from the 'Merchant of Venice' (by J. Browne), and another from 'As you like it' (by S. Middiman), both painted for Boydell's 'Shakespeare,' 'The Retreating Shower' (aquatint by M. C. Prestel), and a view of 'Windsor from the Great Park' (by W. Byrne and J. Schumann). J. Ogborne engraved after Hodges 'Belisarius' and 'The Sleeping Shepherd.'
About 1790 he travelled on the continent, and visited St. Petersburg, of which he painted a view. He painted two large allegorical pictures of the 'Effects of Peace' and 'War,' which, with some others, he exhibited in Bond Street, with an explanatory catalogue. They, however, failed to attract, and Hodges, on closing the exhibition, retired from his profession, and disposed of his pictures by auction. In 1795 he settled at Dartmouth, and opened a bank. The troubles, however, which affected the financial world at the time proved the ruin of his firm. Hodges died shortly afterwards at Brixham, Devonshire, of gout in the stomach, on 6 March 1797, aged 53.
A profile portrait of Hodges is among the series, preserved at the Royal Academy, drawn by G. Dance; it was engraved by W. Daniell. Another portrait by R. Westall was engraved for the 'Literary Magazine' in 1793. Hodges when young etched a plate of Torre del Greco at Naples, after R. Wilson. He painted scenes for the Pantheon, but was not very successful. Two drawings from the South Seas are in the print room at the British Museum, and one of a ruined castle at the South Kensington Museum.
Hodges married, on 11 May 1776, at St. George's, Hanover Square, Miss Martha Nesbit, and settled in Pimlico, but lost his wife in child-bed within a year. On 16 Oct. 1784 he married a second time Miss Lydia Wright, who soon died. Shortly afterwards he married, for a third time, Miss Carr, a lady much beloved and praised by Romney and other friends. His third wife survived him a few months, and died at Tunbridge in May of the same year. By her he had five children, whom he left in great want.
[Edwards's Anecdotes of Painters; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Dodd's manuscript History of English Engravers, Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 33401; Gent. Mag. 1797, lxvii. 255, 552; Catalogues of the Royal Academy and Society of Artists; Hayley's Life of Romney.]
Lionel Henry Cust, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 27. pgs. 61-62.