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William Hodges (1744-1797)

A camp of a thousand men formed by Augustus Cleveland three miles from Bhagalpur, with his mansion in the distance

William Hodges (1744-1797)
A camp of a thousand men formed by Augustus Cleveland three miles from Bhagalpur, with his mansion in the distance
inscribed as titled by the artist (on a label on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 63 in. (122 x 160 cm.)
Commissioned by Augustus Cleveland (1755-1784), and by inheritance in the family to Sir George Christie, B.T., D.L.; Christie's, London, 5 June 1996, lot 132.
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William Robinson
William Robinson

Lot Essay

William Hodges is distinguished for being the first professional landscape painter from Britain to work in India. The paintings and aquatints which he made as a result of his travels in the early 1780s opened the eyes of his contemporaries to India's scenery and architecture and, together with his writings, made a vital contribution to the British perception of India's past. Between 1785 and 1794, he exhibited twenty-five oils of India at the Royal Academy and also engraved forty-eight aquatints from his dawings, published in two volumes between 1785 and 1788 entitled Select Views in India. Hodges met Warren Hastings, the Governor General, in Calcutta in 1781, who became an enthusiastic patron and also introduced Hodges to Cleveland.

Augustus Cleveland was the son of John Cleveland, Secretary to the Admiralty, and his second wife, Sarah, daughter of Richard Shuckburgh of Longborough, Gloucestershire. The Clevelands were descended from the distinguished Scottish family of Cleulands of Faskine, Lanarkshire. Augustus secured a writership in the East India Company's Bengal establishment in 1770 and, on arrival in India the following year, was appointed assistant collector of Bhagalpur, a jungly district to the west of Bengal. His tragically early death at the age of 29 deprived the authorities in India of a remarkable administrator.

Cleveland became not only a patron of Hodges, but a great friend. Together at Bhagalpur they made several expeditions into the surrounding countryside, and Hodges kept a detailed journal, which he published in 1793 after his return to England, entitled Travels in India During the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783. He records his first visit to Bhagalpur in 1781: 'The care that was taken in the government, and the minute attention to the happiness of the people, rendered this district, at this time, a perfect paradise...The situation of the Resident's house, built by Mr. Cleveland, on a very elevated spot...This place owes its principal beauty to the good taste of Mr. Cleveland' (Travels, II, pp. 27-8). The house was a large building of Italian design, set on a hill with a lawn stretching down to the Ganges, and a park with elk and deer close by. Hodges returned to the district in January 1782 (Travels, Chapter V, p. 79 and seq.) and a journey was proposed through the region in the company of Cleveland. 'The interior part consists of much wood, intermixed with cultivated ground, and many villages, chiefly inhabited by husbandmen', Hodges wrote. He and Cleveland visited the hill people, or Paharias, who lived in the territory to the south and west of Bhagalpur. They were a tribe for whom Cleveland had a great affection. Their reputation before his arrival in the district was of a particularly wild nature, and, although they were armed only with bows and arrows, they were much feared for their attacks at night on houses and settlements below their mountain homes. It was Cleveland's 'humanity', as Hodges described it, together with a strong desire to improve his district, that had made him go on an expedition on his own into mountains to arrange a meeting with the principal chiefs, and invite them to visit him at his Residence at Bhagalpur. Through his kindness to them, the presentation of gifts, and long discussions, they agreed to his plan to be formed into a battalion of sepoys, which was to be in the employment of the East India Company. A camp was formed for this corps three miles from Bhagalpur, and such was the success of this new battalion that, as Hodges recorded, '...with the ingenuity, address and humanity of one man, effected in the space of little more than two years, more than could ever have been hoped for from the utmost exertions of military severity' (Travels, p. 90). Wherever Hodges and Cleveland travelled together, they were received with great ceremony, such was the esteem in which he was held by the Paharias.

Hodges stayed for four months with Cleveland before visiting other regions, returning to see him at the end of 1783. To his great dismay he found his patron dangerously ill. A more favourable climate had been advised, and Cleveland was put on board the Indiaman Atlas, which was sailing for the Cape of Good Hope. It only reached the mouth of the Ganges when he died. Mrs. Hastings, who was also on board, had Cleveland's body put into a barrel of spirits and sent back to Calcutta. He was buried in the South Park Street Cemetery; the barrel was buried beneath his tomb. Warren Hastings erected a monument to him: 'the reverence which at an early age Mr. Cleveland had created for himself in the minds of the natives will not suffer his name to sink into oblivion'. The Paharias put up their own monument to him, which contained a small chamber where they could go and pray and, as Hastings remarked, 'in the lapse of a century or two, the name of Cleveland is likely to be confounded with the manifold appellations which they have for each of their divinities' (Bengal Past and Present VI, 1910, p. 145). 'A constant and indeed an incessant application to public business, without sufficient care of a very delicate frame...terminated the mortal existence of this inestimable man', wrote Hodges after hearing of his friend's death. Many years later, Reginald Heber (1783-1826), when appointed Bishop of Calcutta, was astonished to find Cleveland's memory still greatly revered.

In his Travels Hodges notes that he was commissioned to paint several large-scale paintings for Warren Hastings, the East India Company and Augustus Cleveland, who paid him over £4,000. He made numerous sketches and drawings during his travels, and as he often painted several versions of scenes, it is not always possible to determine whether these commissions were painted in India or from the sketches after his return to England.

This painting and Hodges' A Group of Indian Musicians playing Sarangi, a Tambura and Tablas, with a girl dancing on a terrace (also by descent in the Cleveland family and offered for sale in these Rooms in 1996, lot 133), were most probably painted in India and sent home after Cleveland's death. Alternatively, they may have been worked up from sketches Hodges made 'on the spot', after his return to England in November 1784, or among the sale of Augustus Cleveland's effects on 4 February 1794 in Calcutta, which included twenty-one other paintings by Hodges. They are also not recorded amongst other paintings and drawings of Bhagalpur in The Life and Works of William Hodges by I.C. Stuebe, 1979, pp. 213-6.

There is a watercolour of officers and soldiers of the Bengal Infantry in identical uniform in the Royal Collection attributed to 'Green' entitled 'Posting Reliefs', or changing sentries, which is dated circa 1790 (see A.E. Haswell Miller and N.P. Dawnay, Military Drawings and Paintings in the Royal Collection, 1970, Text, p.37, no. 253, Plates 188 and 189).

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