- The Hogarth Tercentenary: An Overview of Commemorative Events
The year 1997 was the tercentenary of the birth of William Hogarth, the best-known British artist of the first half of the eighteenth century. This is not in itself a special distinction—only specialists can name the lesser-known British artists of the period—but Hogarth’s character, talents, and passion have combined to make his name familiar to eighteenth-century scholars. His portraits, political satires, literary illustrations, stories of contemporary life, and writings on art influenced artists of his own and succeeding generations (Edmund Burke picked up some ideas about the sublime and the beautiful from Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty). Not only was his work widely known, but the man himself, because of his strong personality and multiform activities, was a vivid figure in British artistic life. He was energetic in the promotion of British art, in the formation of professional societies, clubs, academies, and in civic, business, and charitable enterprises. He was determined, truculent, idiosyncratic, and inventive. Appropriately, a variety of events marked the anniversary of his birth: exhibitions, symposia, publications, and musical and dramatic performances. Indeed, the special events began to take place a few years before 1997 and there will be yet more in the next few years.
Like those other Williams in the history of British art, William Morris and William Blake, Hogarth was a man of many words. His art is enriched by verbal refiguration and much brilliant eloquence, by himself and others, has illuminated his pictures. Still, primacy must be given to the visual imagery; he himself declared in “The Apology for Painters” that “drawing and painting are a much more complicated kind of writing.” In that spirit, this overview begins with the pictorial, with exhibitions and their attendant illustrated catalogs and booklets, occurring between 1995 and 1998. There were shows devoted to a single painting, to a Progress, to the graphic works, to a particular theme, to related eighteenth-century art. First notice must be taken of “Hogarth the Painter” (Tate Gallery, London, 1997), curated by Elizabeth Einberg. The Tate has the largest collection of Hogarth’s paintings; its entire holdings were on exhibit, as well as loans such as the portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Garrick from the Queen’s Collection, and new acquisitions [End Page 131] such as the portraits of the two Ranby children. The catalog of the exhibition is a kind of condensation of Einberg’s and Judy Egerton’s invaluable scholarship in Einberg’s Manners and Morals (Tate Gallery exhibition catalog, 1987) and The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675–1709 (Tate Gallery exhibition catalog, 1988). In his foreword to Einberg’s Hogarth the Painter (Tate Gallery exhibition catalog, 1997), Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate Gallery, remarked on the lack of a new catalogue raisonné of the artist’s paintings. The last one, by R. B. Beckett, was published in 1949. Although no sense of inadequacy or fragmentation transpired from the many specialized exhibits, a revised catalogue raisonné would be the occasion for a truly comprehensive exhibition, one that would provide scholars with a locus to review and consolidate the range and richness of extant material.
David Bindman was responsible for the British Museum’s exhibition and its catalog, Hogarth and His Times: Serious Comedy (reviewed in this issue). The British Museum has the finest collection in the world of Hogarth’s prints and drawings; these, supplemented by loans from other institutions, constituted a remarkable show. There were such rarely seen objects as manuscript drafts of the Analysis of Beauty, the “Apology for Painters,” a fan with scenes from A Harlot’s Progress, a stoneware tankard decorated with the image of A Midnight Modern Conversation, and a punchbowl of Chinese export porcelain imprinted with Hogarth’s caricature of John Wilkes. It was Bindman’s intention to show some aspects of Hogarth that have been relatively neglected, for instance, his later reputation and his influence on nineteenth- and twentieth-century moral or comic artists such as George Cruickshank, William Powell Frith, and David Hockney. Hogarth’s important German follower Daniel Chodowiecki was represented, as were Paul Sandby’s malevolent and skillful satirical prints...