William Hogarth was an artist, not a gentleman
William Hogarth’s drawing habit was not well received in France, where it led to his arrest for espionage. He was only released after successfully proving he was an artist by drawing several derogatory caricatures. The pugnacious Englishman immortalized the incident a few months later in his 1748 oil painting “La Porte de Calais”, which depicts a British side of beef drooling over emaciated French soldiers and a chubby-fingered monk.
The satirical painting is one of the first exhibited in “Hogarth and Europe”, a new exhibition which opens on November 3 at Tate Britain in London. The show’s catalog notes that Hogarth, who was born in London in 1697 and lived there his entire life, is often considered “an island patriot, a xenophobe, or a pioneer of brutal nationalism.” But exhibition co-curator Alice Insley says the idea ignores Hogarth’s admiration for the work of European artists.
The exhibition, which includes some 150 works mostly from public collections, draws parallels between Hogarth and his continental contemporaries. “If you look at the beef in the center of ‘La Porte de Calais’, it actually looks a lot like Chardin,” says Insley; Hogarth’s French contemporary, Jean-Siméon Chardin, specialized in still lifes. “We know that Chardin and Hogarth in the 1730s painted very similarly, certainly in their treatment of surfaces with this kind of rich, heavily illuminated treatment of still life details,” explains exhibition co-curator Martin Myrone. “But they wouldn’t have seen each other’s work until the 1740s at the earliest.”
In the exhibition, one of Chardin’s most famous still lifes, “The White Tablecloth” from 1731-32, is presented alongside Hogarth’s painting “La tête à tête”, produced a decade later in the part of his “Fashionable Wedding”. series on the disastrous outcome of an arranged marriage. Hogarth’s painting “has this wonderful hangover breakfast played out on a beautiful white tablecloth, so I think it will be really fascinating to see the two paintings together,” Ms. Isley says.
Conservatives believe this kind of creative kinship emerged in the first half of the 18th century, as European artists became less dependent on state patronage and began working more as freelancers. The demands of the market have led many of them to center “their art around urban themes, around social satire and social commentary,” explains Mr. Myrone.
Hogarth gained a reputation for excelling in these fields through his “modern moral subjects,” which told stories sequentially through a series of images. The exhibition includes paintings and prints from his best-known series, such as “Marriage A-la-Mode”, “A Rake’s Progress” and “A Harlot’s Progress”. Curators explore the tension between their satirical take on foreign customs and the way Hogarth often drew inspiration from European genre painting.
Ms Insley cites the work of Italian painter Giuseppe Crespi as a major influence on Hogarth, particularly in his series of paintings on the ups and downs of an opera singer, which no longer exists in fragments. The show gives some idea of Crespi’s flair for describing the sort of vulgar behavior that is now often dubbed Hogarthian: in her “Court Scene” (1710-15), a disgruntled laundress watches a cat slash a man relieving himself against a wall .
A less obvious influence on Hogarth is Jean-Antoine Watteau, whose decorative paintings such as “The Pleasures of the Ball” (1714) – on loan for exhibition by the Dulwich Picture Gallery – were well known in England. The two artists share “the interplay between theater and reality,” says Myrone. “You can see it from the way there are gestures and looks that connect through their images and suggest a kind of narrative movement, even if it’s just characters sitting in a room or dancing together. or sitting together in a landscape. ”
Hogarth’s appreciation for the work of foreign artists extends to engravers of his own work. The very popular prints of “Mariage A-la-Mode” were mostly engraved by French Huguenot artists living in London. The Covent Garden area of Hogarth was a nest of artists, cabinet makers and pigment sellers who often came from abroad. His friend Jean André Rouquet, an expatriate Swiss miniaturist, helped to establish Hogarth’s reputation in Europe by publishing a monograph in French of his engravings. Rouquet’s miniature painting of a perched, almost cherubic Hogarth is one of the artist’s many portraits in the exhibition.
He is a very different type of character from the one Hogarth chose for himself in his 1745 self-portrait “The Painter and his Carlin”. It hangs in the last room of the exhibition alongside a 1739 self-portrait by the Dutch contemporary Cornelis Troost de Hogarth. Both use pictorial traditions of 17th-century Dutch painting, such as placing a portrait in a picture and using a stage-like curtain as a framing device. But while Troost presents himself as a courteous gentleman, Hogarth is defiantly dressed in the costume of a working artist and has accentuated the scar on his forehead.
“Hogarth’s self-portrait suggests that it was he who deliberately cultivated a candid image of himself, because what you see is what you get,” Ms. Insley said. “He clearly positions himself in a European visual tradition of self-portraits, but he also portrays himself very clearly as someone who is not the artist-gentleman.”
Write to Tobias Gray at [email protected]
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