Various prints and paintings
(prints & paintings - 2/5)
The Marriage Contract (1733)
'This unused preliminary sketch for A Rake's Progress offers an interesting insight into Hogarth's compositional technique. In Its overall disposition, it resembles The Rake's Levée, particularly as regards the architectural setting, the presence of the waiting figures in the ante-room on the left, and the kneeling jockey in the foreground. Thematically, the scene relates most closely to The Rake Marrying an Old Woman, though at this stage Hogarth apparently intended to advance their union, possibly placing it immediately after the rake's inheritance, to contrast all the more vividly with his abandonment of the pregnant Sarah Young in the opening scene. In the event, he reorganized the narrative whilst retaining elements of the pictorial structure. Yet, beyond this, Hogarth seems to have exploited the abandoned sketch when composing the opening scene of Marriage à la mode. Not only do both episodes centre on a marriage contract, but in each instance the artist also shows the prospective groom distracted from the business at hand: here, the rake apparently slips a billet doux to his servant, while in the later work the Earl's son is more preoccupied by his own reflection than by his flancée or the negotiations between his father and prospective father-in-law.
The present work, with its conspicuous display of old masters and somewhat battered classical busts, emphasizes the rake's pretensions as a connoisseur. Heads of Cicero, julla and Germanicus, paragons of virtue, seem to cringe at the transaction they are witnessing, while behind them Jupiter ravishes Ganymede in a work later re-used in the fourth episode of Marriage à la mode. Immediately behind the rake, Hogarth vents his anti-Catholic prejudices with a portrayal of a transubstantiation machine, with the Virgin tossing Holy Infants into the top and a cleric collecting communion wafers at the other end.'
The Pool of Bethesda (1736)
'Upon learning of the intention to employ the Venetian jacopo Amigoni to decorate their staircase and great hall, Hogarth approached the authorities of St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1734, offering his own services free of charge. Over the next three years, he produced two substantial oils for the staircase, both of which feature biblical scenes of charity and healing. Though The Good Samaritan, completed in 1737, is relatively disappointing, the earlier scene of Christ curing the sick at the Pool of Bethesda displays an accomplishment which belies the fact that this was Hogarth's first attempt at a monumental historical composition. Working with his friend, the landscapist George Lambert, Hogarth illustrates an episode from John 5: 2-9 in which Christ comes upon a lame man at a pool in Jerusalem reputed for its miraculous curative powers. Ignored by others seeking relief, the lame man sits at the pool's edge, unable to reach the restorative waters, until Christ encounters him and commands him: 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.'
Hogarth's rendition of this scene combines a pictorial style owing much to Italian precedent with a veristic concern for physiological accuracy. In particular, the artist carefully details the symptoms of the figures around the pool, allowing the viewer to infer the disease from which each is suffering. The depiction of such ailments as rickets (first described by Dr Glisson at St Bartholomew's in 1650), gout, obesity and blindness lends an unambiguously contemporary resonance to this work of historical reconstruction.
Admired by George Vertue as a 'great work of painting [which] is by every one judged to be more than could be expected of him', Hogarth's mural substantiated his claim that English artists were more than capable of excelling in the higher genres, which the nation's patrons normally entrusted to continental competitors.'
The Country Dance (1745)
'This unfinished sketch is generally recognized as the final scene in Hogarth's abortive series The Happy Marriage, which was apparently intended as a contrast to the tale of marital disaster recounted in Marriage à la mode. Only four of the original suite of works survive (The Staymaker, Tare Gallery, London; The Wedding Banquet, Royal Institute of Cornwall, Truro; The Marriage Procession, Collection of Marquess of Exeter), but it seems as if the artist projected a narrative of rural romance in which a young squire's courtship was shown as culminating in peace and contentment. Here, the tenants and gentry are entertained in the local manor house, following the hero's inheritance of his father's estate. A vivid rendition of movement, applied to an exotically varied array of physical types from the gangling fop to the portly squire, the work formed the basis for the second plate in The Analysts of Beauty, published in 1753.
Hogarth's abandonment of The Happy Marriage illustrates his uneasiness with episodes lacking moral tension. His preference for mordant irony and social criticism frustrated the novelist Samuel Richardson's proposal for him to provide illustrations to Pamela. Hogarth himself resumed the difficulty in The Analysis of Beauty, where he remarks:
It is strange that nature bath afforded us so many lines and shades to indicate the deficiencies and blemishes of the mind, whilst there are none at all that point out the perfections of it beyond the appearance of common sense and placidity. Deportment, words, and actions must speak the good, the wise, the witty, the humane, the generous, the merciful, and the brave. Nor are gravity and solemn looks always a sign of wisdom.'
Moses Brought before Pharaoh's Daughter (1746)
'Amongst the 375 governors of the Foundling Hospital, no fewer than 20 were artists, and it was largely at Hogarth's behest that a group of painters freely offered their services to decorate the hospital's premises when it was decided that money could not be made available for such a purpose from the charlty's funds. The most conspicuous result of this initiative was a series of history paintings, all drawing on Old Testament stories of abandoned children, that was donated to the hospital's Court Room in 1747 by Hayman, Highmore, Wills and Hogarth.
This act of largesse was not entirely disinterested, since such a prestigious venue provided English artists with a much-needed opportunity to display their skills to a fashionable metropolitan public. Indeed, the Foundling Hospital soon became a noted sight which, with works by artists such as Ramsay, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Wilson, functioned as the city's first permanent gallery. In recognition, artists dined annually at the hospital on the anniversary of William III's landing in England, 5 November, a tradition that proved seminal in the development of formal artistic institutions in England.
Hogarth's contribution to the scheme complements Hayman's Finding of Moses, and shows the young prophet brought before his adoptive mother by his nurse - the woman who is, in fact, his natural mother - whom a servant pays off for her services. The work is curiously focused on Pharaoh's daughter, in her brilliant red robes, although her dominance somewhat unbalances the composition, which Hogarth had loosely based on Poussin's The Child Moses treading the Pharaoh's Crown. His attempt at local colour, with the miniature crocodile crouched in the foreground and his strange amalgamation of architectural styles, provides an undeniably approximate feel of ancient Egypt. Despite its deficiencies, however, the work was described by Vertue as giving 'most striking satisfaction and approbation.'
Calais Gate, or O! The Roast Beef of Old England (1748)
'It was during his second visit to France in 1748 that Hogarth was arrested and deported by the military authorities, after he had been apprehended sketching the fortifications at Calais. His commemoration of this event in Calais Gate, which portrays the artist just as the long arm of the French law reaches out to trap him, is a classic distillation of contemporary British Francophobia.
Set against the city gate itself, constructed by the English during their occupation of the port during the middle ages, Hogarth presents a troop of Gallic stereotypes, typical of the under-nourished, ragged buffoons familiar in satirical depictions of the French by Georgian caricaturists. Their interest is aroused by the arrival of a sirloin of beef, destined for the establishment of Madame Grandsire, whose hotel catered for English visitors to the town. As the cook struggles beneath its weight, the portly friar scarcely conceals his gluttonous thoughts, while the sentinels - dining on the 'soupe maigre' which English commentators claimed was the staple diet of their less fortunate neighbours - stand wide-eyed in admiration and amazement. In the foreground, a wretched Scots Jacobite huddles in the shadows, his patched forehead covering wounds possibly inflicted during the 1745 uprising.
Calais Gate encapsulates Hogarth's claim that the French were characterized by 'poverty, slavery and insolence, with an affectation of politeness'. His views, typical of the age, equated French impoverishment with regal absolutism and the power of Catholicism (evident in the background vignette of priests parading the Host). The British, by contrast, were judged to owe their superior prosperity, and more substantial cuisine, to the freedom of the subject won in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 - an equation summed up in the motto of the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, a club to which Hogarth belonged: 'Beef and Liberty'!'
The March to Finchley (1749-50)
'Inspired by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, The March to Finchley contrasts the chaotic tangle of thieving, drinking and whoring troops in the foreground with the disciplined lines of men setting out to defend the capital, who march away in the middle distance. Again, Hogarth raises the thorny issue of choice, embodied in the grenadier flanked by the two women in the centre of the composition: duty, reason and restraint are contrasted with disorder, sensual self-gratification and indulgence, Protestantism with Catholicism, patriotic sacrifice with betrayal of national honour. The scene is set on the Tottenham Court turnpike, between the Adam and Eve on the left and the King's Head Tavern opposite - identified by the artist with the rebellious Stuart cause through its inn sign of Charles II, and with moral degradation through the horde of prostitutes gazing down on the mêlée below. The soldiers all seem to be the worse for their stop-over. Most stagger unsteadily, befuddled by drink, while one soldier in the right foreground has collapsed entirely, and is being plied with a restorative flask of gin by his over-enthusiastic comrade. Behind this group, another soldier alerts a pieman to the theft of milk from a maid whose attention has been diverted by an over-amorous guardsman. Meanwhile, he himself steals a tart from the pieman's tray. Amidst this disorder, the anxious-looking grenadier carries the moral burden of the work. He is presented with a choice in the form of the young loyalist ballad seller on the left, who gestures pleadingly at her pregnant stomach, and the wildly gesturing crone who tugs him towards the brothel and brandishes Jacobite propaganda to attract his attention. Like Hercules at the crossroads, virtue and pleasure offer contrary paths, and duty is bidden to overcome ease.'
'When a portrayal of Boccaccio's heroine Ghismonda, reputedly by Correggio though now attributed to the Florentine Furini, was sold at auction for £400, Hogarth's outrage was matched only by his conviction that he could do just as well. He therefore approached Sir Richard Grosvenor, one of the unsuccessful bidders, with a proposal for his own version of the subject, which would display modern British painters' capacity to rival, and even outshine the Old Masters so immoderately prized by the connoisseurs. So began one of the most unfortunate episodes in Hogarth's career.
The story of Ghismonda, most familiar to contemporaries through Dryden's reworking, 'Sigismunda and Guiscardo'. in his Fables Ancient and Modern of 1699, was a particularly gruesome one. Sigismunda, a widow, falls in love with Guiscardo, and secretly marries him, in defiance of the wishes of her father, Tancred, Prince of Salerno. On learning of her disobedience, Tancred has Guiscardo murdered and sends a messenger to Sigismunda, bearing her husband's heart. Clutching it to her bosom, the young woman commits suicide in an act of heroic defiance.
It is this moment which Hogarth, following 'Correggio', shows here. 'My object,' he recorded, 'was dramatic and my aim to draw tears from the spectator.' Yet even a sympathetic contemporary such as Horace Walpole dismissed his Sigismunda as a 'Maudlin strumpet', claiming that she had 'none of the sober grief, no dignity of suppressed anguish, no involuntary tear, no settled meditation on the fate she meant to meet. no amorous warmth turned holy by despair'. The pathetic, rather than heroic tone struck by Hogarth failed to please. Not only was Grosvenor unwilling to pay the extravagant asking price of £500, but Hogarth could not find another buyer for his work, and was forced to abandon plans for an engraved version.'
The Lady's Last Stake (1758-59)
'News that Hogarth was contemplating retirement prompted a generous commission for a final comic history painting from the artist's friend the Irish peer Lord Charlemont. This elegant work, indebted to the example of such French masters as de Troy and Fragonard, reflects the cosmopolitanism of his patron's taste. An enthusiastic supporter of Hogarth, who had previously purchased Calais Gate and the drawings for The Four Stages of Cruelty, Charlemont had amassed an impressive collection of French and Italian art, and was in the forefront of antiquarian studies, having travelled widely in Italy and Greece.
The Lady's Last Stake, inspired by Colley Cibber's comedy of the same title first produced in 1707, returns Hogarth to the theme of choice which had been a leitmotif in his work since such early projects as The Beggar's Opera and A Harlot's Progress. The artist himself described the scene as portraying 'a virtuous married lady that has lost all at cards to a young officer, wavering at his suit whether she should part with her honour or no to regain the loss which was offered to her'. The insistent young soldier holds out his winnings as he presses his suit. His intended victim turns away, though indecisively, shielding her face from the fire which blazes vigorously, consuming the playing cards which she has angrily thrown into the grate. An affectionate letter from her absent husband lies open on the floor by the hearth, a silent cipher of virtue counterbalancing the importunate blandishments of vice. The urgency of the decision is underlined by the clock on the mantelpiece, with its finial decoration of Cupid brandishing Time's scythe above the inscription 'Nunc, Nun'c' ('Now, Now'). Time is running out, as the rising moon suggests, though the depiction of the Magdalene over the fireplace emphasizes the price of dishonour.'
Paul before Felix (1748)
'Hogarth's greatest opportunity to demonstrate his skills as a history painter in the grand style came when he was approached by the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn to provide a major work for their hall. The chance arose thanks to a bequest of £200 from Lord Wyndham, formerly Chancellor of Ireland, and the good offices of Lord Mansfield, later Lord Chief Justice, who secured the commission for his friend Hogarth. In response, the artist selected a courtroom drama taken from the Acts of the Apostles, showing Paul defending himself against accusations of sedition levelled by Tertullus - shown on the left - at the instigation of the high priest Ananias, who sits immediately behind the apostle's adversary. The case is heard by Felix. governor of judaea, with his Jewish wife, Drusilla, at his side.
Though the artist looked to the example of Thornhill's life of Saint Paul which decorates the cupola of Wren's cathedral, his main point of reference was the work of Raphael, and particularly the cartoons in the Royal Collection, which he probably studied through engravings. It is Paul and the Blind Magician Elymas before Serglus Paulus (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) which provided Hogarth with his main source, though for the figure of Paul he borrowed from the cartoon of Paul preaching at Athens from the same series. The result, though enormously ambitiousy is not entirely convincing. The clogged composition and rather broadly drawn faces (reminiscent of the subsidiary figures in Moses Brought before Pharaoh's Daughter, suggests that such work, though allowing Hogarth to test his assertion that British painters were capable of rivalling the masters, scarcely exploits his natural strengths.
In a more congenial vein, Hogarth published a print burlesquing the scene in the manner of Rembrandt, a further dig at the connoisseurs' weakness for 'dismal dark subjects'.
Neil McWilliam, David Bindman