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View near Fort Gwalior, India

Date: ca. 1783
Dimensions:
13 1/2 x 19 1/8 in. (34.3 x 48.6 cm.)
Medium: oil on canvas
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Object Number: 33.6
Label Text:Discouraged by the limited market in Britain for paintings of native scenery, Hodges set sail for India in 1779, becoming the first professional landscape painter to travel through the region and document its terrain. In early May 1783 he spent ten days at Gwalior, India, in the heart of Hindostan, eighty miles south of Agra. The British were then engaged in the second Mysore war (1780-84) against Hyder Ali, ruler of the Hindu state of Mysore. A recent British military exploit at Gwalior accounts for Hodges's interest in visiting the site. A strategic gateway to western India, Fort Gwalior stood atop a steep promontory that had long been considered impregnable. Against all odds, the fort was captured on August 3, 1780 by a small company of British soldiers led by Major Popham, who scaled the perpendicular walls of the hill under the cover of night. The event was trumpeted by the British as an example of their military prowess. Anticipating a ready British market for images of Fort Gwalior and its surroundings, Hodges made a number of on-site drawings intended to serve as models for future paintings and engravings. His book Travels in India (1793) contained a lengthy account of the raid and an engraved illustration of the south side of the fort.
This small oil study is closely related to Hodges's engraving in Travels in India and to the pen and wash drawing on which it was modeled. In the oil, however, Hodges has moved nearer to the rocky promontory, adopting a vantage point behind and to the right of the hut that appears in the distant center of the drawing and engraving. We now see only the southeast half of the great rock formation, with the fortifications themselves eliminated from view. Hodges seems to have executed the painting fairly quickly, mixing the pigments directly on the canvas and defining the forms economically, with a few assured strokes of the brush. The freedom of handling may indicate that this study was painted on the spot or very soon after the artist made his outdoor studies, while impressions of the place were still clear in his mind. His protracted stay at Gwalior would have provided an opportunity to carry out such a painting, for as he noted in Travels in India, he was forced to remain there longer than anticipated in order to recover from "the fatigue I had undergone, from the violent heats and exposure to the sun, in making my drawings."
In this painting, Hodges altered the actual topography of Gwalior (documented by his on-site drawing) in order to accommodate the scene to established conventions of "classical" landscape design. These conventions derived from seventeenth-century French paintings of Italian landscape, and emphasized the creation of an overall mood of order and calm through compositional balance, measured recession into spatial depth, and a unifying atmosphere. Here, the dark foreground directs our attention toward the brightly illuminated landscape prospect, with the view framed at left and right by rising rocky promontories. Figures, huts, and trees placed at intervals within the foreground and middle distance help chart our recession into pictorial depth, with the distant mountain peak providing a climax to the view. Hodges had imbibed these conventions from his former master Richard Wilson, who used them to invest English scenery with the same idyllic, arcadian quality that characterized his Italian landscapes. By transferring these conventions to the plain of Gwalior, Hodges caused the Indian scene to resemble paintings of the Roman Campagna, and indeed for many years this study was considered a Roman landscape by Richard Wilson.
This oil study shows Hodges consciously transforming a specific topographical site with a well-known historical content into a more generalized landscape with vaguely arcadian and classical associations. He adopted the same strategy in several other Indian landscapes painted after his return to London. Such paintings demonstrate the artist's strategic pursuit of two very different markets for his paintings: one placed a premium on topographical fact; the other on romantic interpretation. By appealing to both sets of expectations, Hodges sought to enlarge potential demand for his pioneering views of Indian scenery.

In Collection(s)