- The Analysis of Beauty, and: Hogarth: a Life and a World
Joseph Burke’s pioneering edition of The Analysis of Beauty (Clarendon Press, 1955) having long been out of print, this new inexpensive edition of Hogarth’s treatise is most welcome, as it makes this important text easily accessible to all those interested in the evolution of British aesthetic discourse in the eighteenth century. Professor Paulson has written extensively on all aspects of Hogarth’s contribution to the history of (British) art, and published well-known and frequently updated biographies and catalogues raisonnés of his prints, as well as countless critical and contextual studies of his art. Coming as the synthesis of over three decades of research, his edition of the Analysis is perhaps his most remarkable and decisive contribution to the establishment of Hogarth’s “absolute centrality...in English culture of the eighteenth century.” Boiling down the proliferating and daunting narrative of his latest three-volume Hogarth to fifty pages of essential text, his introduction to the present volume is a model of efficient sobriety, weaving together factual information and theoretical contextualization, and providing all the necessary keys to a thorough understanding of Hogarth’s serpentine, but cogent, formal discussion of beauty.
Wasting no time on the vexing question of establishing how much of this text was actually written by Hogarth himself, Paulson focuses all his attention on its internal coherence, with occasional glances at Hogarth’s pictures, thus definitively exploding the critical cliché according to which Hogarth’s theory is a clumsy patchwork of borrowed ideas bearing no direct relation to his more admired artistic practice. After briefly recounting the circumstances of publication and the genesis of the “line of beauty,” Paulson positions Hogarth’s experimental and observational method in relation to both the new empirical philosophy and science of his age and the contemporary discourse on beauty and its effects. Emphasizing the influence of Addison’s concepts of the Beautiful and the Novel over Hogarth’s idea of the pleasurable “chace,” Paulson explains the extent to which Hogarth “radicalized” and in the end “subverted” Shaftesbury’s aesthetics by granting prime importance to “common observation” over classical models in the search for beautiful lines and by eventually finding the latter in the “moving” natural grace of “living women,” rather than in the idealized—and too frequently idolized—contours and proportion of the “Grecian Venus.” After taking also into account the lesser-known but more contemporary texts of Mark Akenside and Corbyn Morris, Paulson devotes the last section of his presentation to the reception, fate, and legacy of Hogarth’s text, including the translations, discussing the various critical reactions of Paul Sandby, Allan Ramsay, Edmund Burke, Alexander Gerard, Reynolds, and Rowlandson, as well as the correspondences of Hogarth’s enterprise in the world of literature and landscape design.
The text itself comes with useful footnotes that occasionally refer the reader to a careful selection of excerpts reprinted here from Hogarth’s draft versions and unpublished manuscripts. Then come the two famous engravings, conveniently folded so as to be accessible while reading Hogarth’s corresponding text. Their crucial importance within Hogarth’s strategy is here underlined and explained, each detail of these remarkable pictures being described in informative notes.
After the biography, the engravings, and this masterly edition of the Analysis, what we now need is a reliable catalogue raisonné of Hogarth’s paintings, which would confirm the exceptional quality of his painterly art, as well as establish the true relations between his handling of texture and color and the sensorial approach of beauty expressed in this treatise. [End Page 137]
There is something obviously catching in Hogarth’s compulsive storytelling. Perhaps because one of the most striking originalities of his works is their tendency to proliferate graphically, either all over the...