Lessons Learned from a Dead English Satirist

Your treat for today is a glimpse at William Hogarth: Proceed with Caution but the real trick is that once you visit the exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art, you might just learn something. What a fitting week for a lesson on William Hogarth’s grotesque and wicked prints written by the Blanton’s Catherine Zinser, curatorial associate and curator of the exhibition. The story below originally appeared on the Blanton blog.

Hoarders, spendthrifts, thieves, drunks, courtesans, gamblers, quack doctors, adulterers, and murders—this isn’t the new, fall TV line-up; this is what’s on view at the Blanton through Jan. 13, 2013. William Hogarth: Proceed with Caution exposes the sordid tales of several ne’er-do-wells in 18th-century London; but the message remains relevant to today’s audience. Don’t squander your money; don’t steal, lie or cheat; be honest and loyal; be kind to other people and to animals. Hogarth used printmaking as a means to steer society in a direction towards honor and riches. He contrasts virtuous lifestyles with ones fraught with corruption, ultimately leading to disgrace and dreadful consequences—typically, death. His message isn’t a subtle one.

William Hogarth print

William Hogarth, London, 1697-1764, The Reward of Cruelty, from The Four Stages of Cruelty, 1751, Etching with engraving, Paulson 190, third state of four Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1991.158

In the mid 1720’s Hogarth was commissioned to create “conversation” paintings—group portraits with sitters engaging in genteel, social activities such as card playing. Unlike other artists painting in this genre, Hogarth used wit and drama to create lively interactions between the sitters and the audience. He soon saw the potential to pioneer a new genre—sequential art. Precursors to comic books, sequential artwork tells a story through a series of compositions. The five printed series on view at the Blanton are some of the finest visual narratives in this genre.

Hogarth print series example

William Hogarth, London, 1697-1751, Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751, Etching and engraving, Paulson 185-186, third states of four Jack S. Blanton Curatorial Endowment Fund, 2005.166-167

Hogarth does for 18th-century London what Shakespeare did for the Elizabethan era. Through his prints we know what sort of pastimes society engaged in and what people wore; he references contemporary gambling halls and taverns, newly published literature, current stage productions, and infamous criminals and prostitutes. Hogarth’s artwork serves as a window to London in the 1750’s.

Continue reading about Hogarth on the Blanton blog …