New to the collection: The Works of William Hogarth

The Works of William Hogarth Esq. RA, with the additions of many subjects not before collected, to which is prefixed, a biographical essay on the Genius and production of Hogarth, and explanations of the subjects of the plates, by John Nichols Esq. FSA.  London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1822           Large Folio NE 642 .H6 N5 1822

William Hogarth, 1697-1764

A recent donation to Special Collections is an early 19th century publication of the engraved works of William Hogarth.  This large folio has over 150 engravings, printed between 1828 – 1837, over 50 years after Hogarth’s death, from the original refurbished plates, and includes descriptive texts and explanations.  It features a large self portrait, many caricatures and political, satirical works, as well as his moral stories, narrated in a series of pictures.

Hogarth, a British painter and engraver, worked at a time when British culture was establishing itself as separate from Continental courts or religious influences.  It was a time of prosperity and growth with liberal political leanings and rather unburdened moral sensibilities.  The influence of politics, social issues, and contemporary drama and novels, can be seen throughout these works.

Hogarth first considered himself a painter and many of his early works were commissioned by wealthy families.  At the same time, he was also interested in genre painting, focusing on “modern moral subjects” and scenes of the lower class.  Although he believed that painting was “high art” and engraving a more mechanical form of labor, he achieved fame primarily for his engraved works.  Among those well known works are “A Harlot’s Progress” (1732), “A Rake’s Progress” (1735), “Marriage à la Mode” (1745), “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” (1751).  Included in this book are three “suppressed prints” entitled “Before”, “After”, and “Feeding Poultry”, possibly suppressed because of their racy content.

Hogarth was involved in current political issues and along with 4 other artists, petitioned Parliament to protect the rights of engravers, whose work was being pirated and sold by merchants.  The resulting Engraver’s Copyright Act of 1735 gave artists the sole rights to their prints for 14 years from their initial date of publication.  Hogarth also founded a drawing academy in St. Martin’s Lane and in 1753 wrote Analysis of Beauty, a much criticized manifesto on art theory.  The library owns a 1772 copy of this work as well, which was printed posthumously and sold by Hogarth’s widow.

The prints in The Works of William Hogarth are quite beautiful and when you look at them with magnification, you can see that parts of the print were etched and parts were engraved, a practice common in that time period.  The paper is made from rags and is still strong and flexible.  The binding has been re-backed, although it looks like the original boards, which have been covered with quarter bound leather and marbled paper, are still intact.  The book is very large and heavy so it is both a delight and a challenge to view.

bathos

bathos

The prints are complex and intricate, with many subtle visual clues to the narrative.  Hogarth’s satirical and robust depictions of every day life in the early 18th century seem to echo simliar political and social issues we face even now.  Might we not benefit these days from the vision  and social commentary of a contemporary Hogarth?        LWC

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