BRITISH GENRE PAINTING IN THE 18TH CENTURY. GENRE PAINTING PARTICULARLY , PORTRAITURE AND LANDSCAPE WAS TO DOMINATE BRITISH ART IN THIS PERIOD: AN APPRECIATION OF THE THREE GREAT ARTISTS OF THIS GENRE OF PAINTING JOSHUA REYNOLDS ( 1723-92) THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH ( 1727-88) AND WILLIAM HOGARTH ( 1697-1764). PART 1

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Gainsborough Dupont circa 1770-5 by Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788

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In the first series of articles on Genre painting in the 18th Century in Britain I will be concentrating on William Hogarth who stands out as a Social critic and Morality critic, unlike Gainsborough and Reynolds. Although he did concentrate on portraiture and conversation pieces his series of cheaply printed morality tales of the Harlot’s progress , Marriage A’la ‘mode and the Rake’s progress were profitable as cheap prints and were widely sold.

Tim Clayton in his book on Hogarth shows the importance of the Morality tales starting with a Harlot’s progress.

” With a Harlot’s progress Hogarth began to explore previously unchartered territory . In 6 pictures he told a story set in contemporary London”. [1].

” A harlot’s progress was set in familiar contemporary London. A very young innocent country girl ( Moll Hackabout) arrives on a York wagon. she is met not by her cousin by a well dressed Woman” .[2].

Clayton now continues with a Rake’s progress which Hogarth also published on a subscription basis.

” Hogarth launched a subscription for a Rake’s Progress in December 1733 and promised to deliver the set the following autumn”. [3].

” In the event he held it back until the copy wright Act came into Force and published it the day the Act was passed 25th June 1735″ .[4].

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Clayton now comes to discuss the great Actor Manager David Garrick in his role in Richard 3rd the great Shakespearean tragedy.

” At  7s 6d this portrait of the great Actor-manager David Garrick was the most expensive print that Hogarth had yet published”. [5].

” Instead they are generalised and Universal in their indictment of the divisive violence and corruption associated with the English Electoral process”. [6].

David Bindman another Art Historian comments on Hogarth’s conversation pieces which were also painted by Thomas Gainsborough.

” Hogarth produced a number of these conversation pieces and he tells us that he preferred them to the common portrait because they gave more scope to fancy”. [7].

” The idea comes to the fore in the remarkable pair of paintings called the House of Cards where groups of children ape their elders .in each case the pivotal image is one of collapse. The children are clearly real but the paintings are in a sense parodies of the genre of the conversation piece”. [8].

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Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants c.1750-5 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

The Baillie Family c.1784 by Thomas Gainsborough 1727-1788

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Bindman shows how Hogarth was repaid in kind because posterity shows that his prints or Novellas showed a proper Moral attitude unlike Reynolds or Gainsborough who were concerned to depict Middle class Bourgeois family scenes whereas Hogarth did try and reflect proletarian subjects if somewhat comically.

” Hogarth’s pride in his new way of proceeding was justified by posterity for it was Modern moral subjects or novels in paint that were regarded in his own and the following century as his most important achievement”. [9].

” There is a primary sense therefore as Haslitt (writer and social critic) pointed out in which Hogarth’s paintings have to be read rather than contemplated and Hogarth talked of his repertoire of  observed attitude and gesture as a form of language”. [10].

Bindman continues his discussion of the importance of the Progresses , his morality tales.

” Hogarth no doubt hoped that his painted scenes would last and be of interest to Posterity but his primary concern was to capture the interest of his contemporaries”. [11].

” We find particularly in the 18th Century that the assumption is made almost universally that most of the characters in Hogarth had a real prototype that each setting was precisely observed from a particular episode in Life”. [12].

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Bindman continues his commentary on all the positive aspects of Hogarth’s artistic practices.

” Even when Hogarth refers to contemporary characters and events he employsa sensitivity fully attuned to pictorial modes”. [13].

” Hogarth’s progresses in effect draw together the moral and physical ideas of the progress , the moral journey of the soul towards salvation or perdition”. [14].

The Progresses as Bindman argues was to bring great success to Hogarth coupled with the sale and subscription of the Tales in Novella form which was a  cheap form of entertainment for the proletarian classes.

” The success of the progresses was enough to establish Hogarth as one of the most Notable men of his day in London and he was able to profit from his achievements by creating his own market for his engravings”. [15].

“In the Mid-1730’s one can also see the growth of an artistic circle revolving around Hogarth particularly in the Art school in St Martin’s lane which he inherited”. [16].

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Bindman now concludes his commentary on Hogarth and his great and varied Artistic talent.

” The impact of the two progresses was so great that one tends to forget that at the same time Hogarth made satirical paintings of quite a different character”. [17].

” The sense of the world given over to folly and vice is conveyed by the way in which the Church Tower and the Flag are echoed”. [18].

This concludes the first part of my investigation into 18th Century art practices as developed by the great Humourist and satirical artist William Hogarth. In Part 2 I will further explore Hogarth and his D’oeuvre  in Portraiture and Genre Painting.

FOOTNOTES

  1. HOGARTH: TIM CLAYTON. PG.14
  2. DITTO.PG.16
  3. DITTO.PG.38
  4. DITTO.PG.38
  5. DITTO.PG.74
  6. DITTO.PG.78
  7. HOGARTH DAVID BINDMAN: PG.41
  8. DITTO.PG.42
  9. DITTO.PG.55
  10. DITTO.PG.55
  11. DITTO.PG.73
  12. DITTO.PG.73
  13. DITTO.PG.75
  14. DITTO.PG.79
  15. DITTO.PG.85
  16. DITTO.PG.86
  17. DITTO.PG.87
  18. DITTO.PG.87-8

 

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