26 October 1764, the English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist William Hogarth died at the age of 66 in London.
“Farewell great Painter of Mankind Who reach'd the noblest point of Art Whose pictur'd Morals charm the Mind And through the Eye correct the Heart. If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay, If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear: If neither move thee, turn away, For Hogarth's honour'd dust lies here.“ (David Garrick’s epitaph for William Hogarth)
|One of Hogarth’s many single paintings, the “The March of the Guards to Finchley“ describing the mustering of troops on London’s Tottenham Court Road during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, full of Hogarthian details.*|
Career options for a young man are usually quite limited with a family background of a pater familias who ended up in debt prison because his Latin-speaking coffee house at St John’s Gate went bust, forcing the said young man to sell his mother’s home-cooked domestic remedies in the streets to obtain the basic necessities for the loved ones. Satirist is an excellent choice, though, if one has a bit of artistic skill, a keen perception of life’s absurdities and the ability to cope with them. Fortunately, William Hogarth had all three of these abilities in abundance. And very soon, the artist became a highly moral pictorial satirist who castigated conditions of a world that was about to change forever at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when the old values of Merry Old England were to become a cherished relic in the newly founded United Kingdom with its Hanoverian kings, South Sea Bubbles, a capital that was drowning in unbelievable hygiene standards and the according epidemics and new customs and habits of high and low and those lowly who pretended to be high that made the days at the court of the Merry Monarch Charles II, as Samuel Pepys had described them in his diary, seem like idylls of the king.
|William Hogarth's self-portrait "The Painter and his Pug" (1745)|
When Realism became an art movement in France a hundred years after Hogarth’s death, intending to portray real, commonplace people in their natural habitat, the aversion of Romantic drama threw out the baby with the bath water and created a social drama without even a hint of the sense of humour, the irony of human, all-too-humaness and the sheer joy of telling a tale that the British master of early sequential art had expressed in his often painstakingly realistic depictions. Taking the works of artists like da Vinci and Dürer along with the quite realistic tradition of Dutch 17th century genre paintings and turning them into satirical story-telling prints published en masse as broadsheets and appreciated, often in the evenings in the homes of the emerging bourgeois family circles, by a huge audience, Hogarth’s “Modern Moral Subjects”, Harlot's and Rake's Progresses, “Marriage à-la-mode” or “Industry and Idleness”, usually six to twelve consecutive prints, flooded the readers with a wealth of detail on every sheet along with laughter and a distinct finger-wagging. And there are few testimonies of the life and times of an epoch as rich and as entertaining as those created by Hogarth. The artist’s stance against Britain’s participation in the Seven Years’ War, expressed in his print “The Times” from 1762, proved to be too much for his audience. Hogarth took the smear campaign against him to heart and died two years later as one of Britain’s most influential artist of the 18th century and not only in terms of satirical art.
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* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_March_of_the_Guards_to_Finchley gives a good introduction to Hogarth’s approach on sketching reality with a tongue-in-cheek attitude in a work he had characterised himself as being “steeped in humour”.