The only child of a London blacksmith, William Hodges studied at William Shipley’s drawing school, as an assistant to landscape painter Richard Wilson, and under G. B. Cipriani and Joseph Wilton at the Duke of Richmond’s sculpture gallery. In 1772, Hodges sailed to the Pacific and Antarctic Oceans as a landscape artist on Captain Cook’s second expedition. On this trip, one of Cook’s longest, Hodges produced many works including portrait drawings and a few oil paintings. It is from this journey Hodges is cited to have developed an interest in sublime light effects and the ethereal atmosphere of the unknown, as is reflected in much of his work from this period.
This was not his last overseas expedition, however, and in 1779 Hodges sailed for India, where he travelled and painted extensively. Here he also gained the patronage of Bengali Governor-General Warren Hastings, and developed a taste for Indian subjects. Upon returning home in four years later, Hodges exhibited Indian subjects and in 1793 published Select Views in India, a memoir of his travels to the country. He was elected to the Royal Academy in 1789.