Thursday, November 10, 2016


November 10, 1697. William Hogarth (10 November 1697 - 26 October 1764) was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects". Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as "Hogarthian.”

From the review when the Tate had a Hogarth retrospective: Hogarth was in many ways a contradictory figure: a satirist who wanted to be part of the Establishment; a popular engraver who wished to be recognised as a serious artist. He succeeded in being all these things (although, in the first instance, at great personal cost). But first and foremost he was a polemicist. That may seem to be a pretty obvious thing to say when you look at A Rake's Progress (1735), or A Harlot's Progress (1732), or The Idle and Industrious Apprentice (1747), or Stages of Cruelty (1751). But what's truly interesting is the way he did it, because it was essentially contradictory. Take his most famous print, Gin Lane (1751). At face value it is identical, in intention and effect, to a modern tabloid headline. It was inspired by a news story Hogarth heard about a woman who murdered her infant daughter so she could sell her clothes to buy gin - the equivalent of a banner headline today about teenagers killing an OAP to steal a fiver to buy crack. It's meant to shock; moreover, it's meant to shock its reader (viewer?) into better behaviour. Thus its companion piece, Beer Street (also 1751), showing the advantages of honest English ale over evil foreign gin. To this end it was sold cheaply in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. In other words, it was a kind of proto-popular journalism, the first glimmer of the developing mass media. ….

There's still more to it, and probably more than Hogarth ever intended. Because of its enduring power, Gin Lane has come almost to define what we think we know of the eighteenth century. If a twenty-first-century time traveller went back to Hogarth's London, he or she would probably be horrified by the stench and the poverty and the crime and the filth, far worse than anything we'd find in our own developing countries. Yet we look at Gin Lane with a kind of amused affection. It's earthy rather than just shitty; rumbustious and not just repulsive; endearing rather than evil. You can put that down to the redemptive power of passing time, or you could say it was another of Hogarth's instigating influences: of taking the unspeakable, depicting it visually, leavening it with humour to make it digestible and, moreover, bearable. Modern cartoons do that too.

Hogarth, supported by Tate Members, Tate Britain, 7 February - 29 April 2007.
Martin Rowson is the chairman of the British Cartoonists' Association. His first novel, Snatches, is published by Jonathan Cape. Stuff, a memoir of his parents and his adoption, is out in April 2007.
Hogarth, supported by Tate Members, Tate Britain, 7 February - 29 April 2007.

Hogarth. Wikipedia.
National Gallery

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