Various prints and paintings
(prints & paintings - 1/5)
Beer Street (1750-1751)
Gin Lane (1750-1751)
The nightmare of Gin Lane (1750) is not simply one of endemic alcoholism brought about by the uncontrolled sale of cheap liquor. The disorder runs deeper than this; such anarchy is also the outcome of luxury, with the lower orders running riot as their social superiors turn away from their rightful roles as moral guardians. It was Fielding again who had diagnosed the consequences of popular luxury, writing in his Enquiry into the Cause of the late Increase of Robbers of:
the very Dregs of the People, who aspiring still to a Degree beyond that which belongs to them, and not being able by the Fruits of honest Labour to support the State which they affect, they disdain the Wages to which their Industry would entitle them; and abandoning themselves to Idleness, the more simple and poor spirited betake themselves to a State of Starving and Beggary, while those of more Art and Courage become Thieves, Sharpers and Robbers.
With Fielding's words in mind, Beer Street provides a revealing glimpse of an ideal society. 'Here', as Hogarth himself remarked, 'all is joyous and thriving. Industry and jollity go hand in hand.' In this well ordered scene, the various classes intermingle in a state of harmony, industry and leisure are properly balanced, prosperity is shared by all but the pawnbroker - who runs the only business to flourish amidst the squalor of Gin Lane. The Englishness of the scene is insistent. The drinkers are solid, straightforward working men - a butcher, a blacksmith and a paviour. In the first state of the print the blacksmith tackles a scrawny French sailor, whom he casually hoists into the air; in a later version of the scene, the foreigner is replaced by that most English of emblems, a shoulder of mutton. To eliminate all ambiguity, the paper lying open on the table at the butcher's side quotes King George II's speech to Parliament of 29 November 1748: 'Let me earnestly recommend [sic] to you the Advancement of our Commerce and cultivating the Arts of Peace, in which you may depend on my hearty Concurrence and Encouragement.' Finally, in the verse beneath the print, good old English beer is extolled for its health-giving qualities and its contribution to the nation's superiority.
The bullish nationalism which could conceive Beer Street as a model of ordered prosperity founded on the liberties of the free-born Englishman was troubled by a niggling pessimism, however. For Hogarth, as for many others concerned by the direction in which the nation was headed, modern society was tainted by two corrosive diseases which threatened to poison public spirit and sow the seeds of moral and political decline. Both threats - financial speculation and parliamentary corruption - were at one and the same time symptoms and causes of luxury. Both, it was feared, loosened the bonds of duty which had allowed Britons a level of freedom, affluence and power unrivalled in continental Europe by transforming citizens committed to the common good into rapacious and unprincipled egotists. Trade, so critics asserted, 'gives rise to fraud and avarice, and extinguishes virtue and simplicity of manners'. Worse still, speculation on the stock market was thought to encourage profiteering and plundering of national assets by men whose unchecked influence enabled them, in the words of Defoe, 'to declare a new sort of Civil War among us when they please'. Or, as Viscount Bolingbroke, a leading advocate of reform and opponent of Walpole, summed up the situation: 'The power of money as the world is now constituted is real power'.
The analysis of beauty - Plate I (1753)
'Hogarth's primary idea is that the true standard of beauty is set by nature, not by art, however admirable. The true connoisseur, then, must be a man of observation and not blinkered by art alone: 'Who but a bigot, even to the antiques, will say that he has not seen faces and necks, hands and arms, in living women, that even the Grecian Venus cloth but coarsely imitate?' The chief source of delight in nature is variety and this applies equally to a work of art. Intricacy of effect is particularly pleasing, for it 'leads the eye a wanton kind of chace'. This notion is based upon a knowledge of the eye's limited field of vision and the empathy between the eye's movement and the movement in nature; in Hogarth's simile an eye observing a dancing woman 'was dancing with her all the time'. Hogarth reduces these notions of variety and empathy to a basic line, a serpentine curve which can be observed equally in art and nature and is at the basis of all beautiful forms. This is the 'line of beauty', and in the accompanying plates there are a vast number of witty comparisons between things which conform and deviate in varying degrees from the ideal curve, from corsets to chairlegs. Hogarth's target is the classical idea that true beauty is dependent on simplicity and the symmetry of the parts. He argues that simplicity is not a primary quality, but one that may be required to temper excess, for 'Simplicity, without variety, is wholly insipid.' His attacks on regularity and uniformity are expressed in revealing examples. In architecture he praises St Paul's and calls Wren 'the prince of architects', contrasting his work with the uniformity of the Palladian style, claiming with some justice that 'were a modern architect to build a palace in Lapland, or the West-Indies, Palladio must be his guide, nor would he dare stir a step without it'. In a stroke of fancy he proposes that each type of building, whether it be church, palace or prison, should have its own order, and that capitals, instead of tamely following the classical orders, should look again at natural forms. Then, characteristically, he deflates his own idea by proposing a capital for law courts 'composed of the aukward and confin'd forms of hats and periwigs' . Most importantly, however, his search for variety led him to reconsider as subjects for appreciation phenomena which were almost completely alien to his time: his recognition of the 'pleasing kind of horror' of large rocks, and his delight in the romantic prospect of Windsor Castle make him an important precursor of the taste for the Sublime and Gothic.'
'Hogarth conflated all the visual illustrations to his argument into two large plates. The first depicts a sculptor's yard filles with a wide variety of classical and modern sculptures, while the second shows a country dance, an adaptation of one of his Happy Marriage designs with illustrative paintings on the walls: one plate displays mainly works of art, and the other unidealized humanity, but the principles apply equally to both.'
The analysis of beauty - Plate II (1753)
3 Engravings for the new metamorphosis (___)