- Hogarth and His Times: Serious Comedy
If, four years ago, some pessimists, including myself, feared that the tercentenary of William Hogarth’s birth in 1997 might pass without due celebrations, they have now been proven wrong. In fact, looking at the spate of exhibitions, catalogs, monographs, and new editions of Hogarth’s works published around the great event (some of them reviewed in this forum), one gets the impression that yet another Hogarthomania has set in. As I write this review, we are expecting The Other Hogarth, ed. by Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal (forthcoming, Princeton University Press) and the proceedings of the Los Angeles conference (1997) edited by David Bindman, Frédéric Ogée, and Hans-Peter Wagner (Manchester University Press, 2000). Hogarth, it seems, has had another field-day.
In Germany alone, there were quite a few commemorations. The earliest one was an exhibition at the Residenzschloß Arolsen, based on the holdings of the Lichtenberg collection of the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universistätsbibliothek in Göttingen, with a catalog edited by Karl Arndt, William Hogarth (1697–1764): Der Kupferstich als moralische Schaubühne (Arolsen: Museum der Stadt Arolsen, 1996). Unfortunately, this catalog is derived (in concept and text) from a previous exhibition in 1987, which is apparent in every respect, especially in the fact that no recent critical works on Hogarth have been considered, while the text still refers to Ronald Paulson’s second edition of the graphic works of 1970 (the standard edition is now the third revised edition published by the Print Room in 1989). The year 1998 saw an exhibition (5 March 1998–30 April 1998) in the Saarland Museum, Saarbrücken, Germany, of a large selection of the Lichtenberg collection of Hogarth’s graphic art. The introduction to the catalog, William Hogarth (1697–1764): Das graphische Werk, edited by Peter Wagner, strikes a poststructuralist note while suggesting a new reading of Hogarth’s engravings based on reader-response criticism and deconstruction. This year, the Altes Museum, Berlin, and the Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt/Main, organized an exhibition on Hogarth and his German admirers, with the six paintings of Marriage A-la-Mode, borrowed from the National Gallery, as a major attraction and focus of attention. Edited by Martina Dillmann and Claude Keisch, the catalog, Marriage A-la-Mode: Hogarth und seine deutschen Bewunderer (Berlin: G-und H-Verlag, 1998), contains informative and insightful essays by, among others, Werner Busch and Judy Egerton.
The major international event, however, was David Bindman’s superb exhibition in the British Museum in late 1997 and early 1998, which then traveled to North America. The front and back cover illustrations of this catalog, Hogarth and His Times: Serious Comedy, convey some of the more important ideas in Bindman’s re/deconstruction of a Hogarth who is essentially different from the Paulsonian one we have lived with since the early 1970s. What greets us on the front cover is a proof impression of Hogarth’s Self-Portrait with Pug: “Gulielmus Hogarth” (1749). Apart from the “line of beauty,” his trademark as it were, and the English note introduced by the dog, we notice that the bust of the artist, cut off by the mirror, rests upon three volumes, that is, texts. In the painting, the titles of the books can be deciphered: they are by Shakespeare, Milton, and Swift, thus acknowledging Hogarth’s intellectual origins while denying [End Page 134] foreign or classical influence. Bindman’s catalog addresses this issue (the framing of Hogarthian satire) in great detail. The back cover presents a visual satire by Paul Sandby, A Mountebank Painter [Hogarth], from 1754 and demonstrates the varied reactions to Hogarth’s works which...