The First Georgians Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, an exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, looks at every aspect of the early Georgian era focusing on the reigns of George I and George II.
A very large part of the display features the work of the artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), exploring his attitude towards the newly emerging wealthy leisure classes – Georgians with spare cash in their pockets and a huge appetite for rich living.
William Hogarth’s Road to Acclaim
When George I acceded to the British throne in 1714, William Hogarth was just six months into an apprenticeship with London silversmith Ellis Gamble. By 1720 Hogarth had established his own copper-plate engraving business producing small commissions such as shop bills and book illustrations.
His own trade card introduced him to prospective clients and showed off his ability as an artist and engraver. The putti in the upper border hold a print and a covered cup, both examples of his work as a printmaker. His drawing skills and ability to use a variety of decorative devices are immediately apparent.
His reputation grew rapidly and his business was highly successful. Hogarth became known not just as a prominent artist and printmaker, but also as a writer on art and a great philanthropist, devoting much of his time to raising funds for the Foundling Hospital.
Appointed Serjeant-Painter to George II in 1757, his relationship with the royals was not good. Like many artists at the time, his success was due to his own endeavours rather than royal patronage or support.
Social Commentary in William Hogarth’s Satirical and Moral Paintings
William Hogarth was especially well-known for his satirical and moral paintings commenting on the new emerging wealthy leisure class. His satirical lampooning of Georgian society did not always make him the most popular man in town and his portrait of celebrated actor-manager David Garrick and his Wife, Eva-Maria Veigel is a case in point.
The artist provides an intimate glimpse into the private life of one of the first big media celebrities.
Hogarth expressed his ideas through wit and this painting is a sort of visual pun. Garrick’s wife creeps up behind him and is about to snatch away his pen. Is she merely a prankster, or is she something more serious, the muse guiding the genius? Garrick, having commissioned and paid for the painting refused to take it because he didn’t like the way Hogarth portrayed him and his wife.
William Hogarth and the Harlot
The First Georgians features A Harlot’s Progress, comprising six prints telling the story of the prostitute Moll Hackabout. Published in April 1732, this was the first of Hogarth’s ‘Modern Moral Subjects.’ It was so incredibly popular that pirated versions soon swamped the market.
In Plate Two, we see Moll, mistress to a wealthy Jewish business merchant. We know this because the paintings on the back wall are scenes from the Old Testament. Other paintings in the apartment refer to Moll’s sexually promiscuous and immoral life.
Moll has a another lover and the merchant has almost discovered them together. She pushes over a table to create a diversion and allow the second lover to creep out.
By the end of the series Moll has died from venereal disease. Her coffin, surrounded by a group of insincere mourners, shows that she died aged 23 on 2 September 1731. Look carefully at all the little details Hogarth gives us as he reveals the drama of the scene through the expressions on the face of each character.
To the left of the coffin we see the parson who spills his brandy as he puts his hand under the skirt of the girl next to him. She has a rather dreamy expression on her face while the parson’s face remains inscrutable.
Beneath Moll’s coffin we see her son playing with his spinning top, innocent, not understanding what is happening. Other mourners use the coffin lid as a tavern bar and Moll’s madam, on the right, is drinking ″Nants″ brandy from a grinning jug.
Another harlot is cunningly stealing the undertaker’s handkerchief and at the rear of the scene another woman checks her appearance in a mirror and we can see the syphilitic sore on her forehead. Also at the rear of the scene we see the white hat worn by Moll in the first plate, a shocking reminder of the beginning of her end.
In his autobiographical notes Hogarth wrote: “my Picture was my Stage and men and women my actors who were, by means of certain actions and expressions to exhibit a dumb shew.” According to E. H. Gombrich, in The Story of Art, Hogarth deliberately created paintings to teach people ″the rewards of virtue and the wages of sin.″
Marriage-à-la-Mode by Various Printmakers After Hogarth
The First Georgians features six prints forming Marriage-à-la-Mode in which Hogarth satirizes the lifestyle of the wealthy, but fictional, Viscount Squanderfield and his bride. This set of prints derive from a series of oil paintings by Hogarth, now in the National Gallery.
Although Hogarth was a well-respected printmaker he often asked other printmakers to make engravings of his work. Bernard Baron (c. 1696-1762) engraved Plate II in the series, The Tête à Tête.
We see that the marriage is already breaking down. Husband and wife are not interested in each other, and there is evidence of their extra-marital activities of the night before. Both are inelegantly sprawled on chairs. By the husband’s feet a broken sword indicates he has been in a fight.
A cheeky dog pulls an item of lady’s clothing from his pocket. The widespread legs of Squanderfield’s wife hint at her nocturnal activities.
In Plate III, The Inspection, also by Bernard Baron, we see Squanderfield and his young mistress, accompanied by a woman who might be her mother, visiting the quack doctor Misaubin to get treatment for syphilis.
In those days the only known treatment was mercury pills but Squanderfield is holding a bottle of pills towards the doctor. Maybe the remedy hasn’t worked and he’s asking for a different treatment.
There is a box on his chair, and his mistress, dabbing an open sore on her mouth, one of the early signs of the disease, also holds a box of pills.
Exhibit at Buckingham Palace
This exhibit offers a peek into wide variety of art, including the interesting social commentary of William Hogarth. The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-1760 is on show until 12th October 2014 at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.© Copyright 2014 Frances Spiegel, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past