- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — As art restorers in London inspected a 230-year-old painting by master landscape artist William Hodges, they noticed the canvas was thicker in some areas than others.

Using an X-ray machine, they peered behind the lush greens of New Zealand and discovered the oldest known painting of Antarctica.

The X-ray revealed two icebergs, painted during Captain James Cook’s historic expedition below the Antarctic Circle. Until the National Maritime Museum in London made the discovery last year, historians thought that only sketches of the frozen continent had been produced.

“In the history of art, there’s nothing comparable,” said Angus Trumble, curator at the Yale Center for British Art, where the Hodges painting and the accompanying X-ray are on temporary display for their only U.S. appearance.

The discovery ignited a discussion over why Hodges endured frigid temperatures, fog and wind to capture the first image of the frozen continent, only to paint over it months later with his “View in Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Bay Sound, New Zealand.”

Cook had set out in 1772 to discover “Terra Australis Incognita.” Hodges was aboard the HMS Resolution to document the voyage, on which Cook spent nearly four months circumnavigating Antarctica.

One theory is that the brutal weather destroyed some of Hodges’ supplies, forcing him to reuse a canvas. Others suggest the bleak polar landscape did not fit the popular style.

“Perhaps he said, ‘Who paints icebergs?’ ” said Isabel Stuebe, a Hodges biographer and scholar. “It was more of a record of something as a scene rather than an artistic composition.”

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