Friday, 3 June 2011


“Hogarth was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. After apprenticeship to a goldsmith, he began to produce his own engraved designs in about 1710. He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs, but based on earlier Italian prints, of which the first was 'The Harlot's Progress' (1731), and perhaps the most famous 'The Rake's Progress'. His engravings were so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735 as protection for writers and artists.

Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.

A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm—"in satire, irony is militant"—but parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This "militant" irony or sarcasm often professes to approve (or at least accept as normalise) the very things the satirist wishes to attack.

Satire is nowadays found in many artistic forms of expression, including literature, art, plays, commentary, and media such as lyrics.

Perhaps Banksy’s cutting graffiti art is the most up to date form of an Artist working through satire.

The Marriage à la Mode was the first of Hogarth's satirical moralising series of engravings that took the upper echelons of society as its subject. The paintings were models from which the engravings would be made. The engravings reverse the compositions.” WIKI

Hogarth is demonstrating that society is rotten, through to the core and the upper classes are no exception. Up until now, Hogarth has settled for spotlighting the foolishness of the lower classes, but here, he turns his eye on the nobles, as well.

Hogarth’s work is sequential. His paintings, viewed one by one tell a story; they have a narrative. Hogarth anticipates the comic strip, a form with which we are all familiar.


The story starts in the mansion of the Earl Squander who is arranging to marry his son to the daughter of a wealthy but mean city merchant. It ends with the murder of the son and the suicide of the daughter.

In the first scene the aged Earl (far right) is shown with his family tree and the crutches he needs because of his gout. The new house which he is having built is visible through the window.

The merchant, who is plainly dressed, holds the marriage contract, while his daughter behind him listens to a young lawyer, Silvertongue. The Earl's son, the Viscount, admires his face in a mirror. Two dogs, chained together in the bottom left corner, perhaps symbolise the marriage.

Hogarth's details, especially the paintings on the walls, comment on the action. A grand portrait in the French manner on the rear wall confronts a Medusa head, denoting horror, on the side wall.

The Tête à Tête

In this second painting we see the marriage is already in shambles as both the husband and the wife are exhausted from their separate partying ways – she is just back from a card party, he likely has just returned from visiting the brothel. Their servant throws his arms up in disgust at them.

The marriage of the Viscount and the merchant's daughter is quickly proving a disaster. The tired wife, who appears to have given a card party the previous evening, is at breakfast in the couple's expensive house which is now in disorder. The Viscount returns exhausted from a night spent away from home, probably at a brothel: the dog sniffs a lady's cap in his pocket. Their steward, carrying bills and a receipt, leaves the room to the left, his hand raised in despair at the disorder.

The decoration of the room again comments on the action. The picture over the mantle piece shows Cupid among ruins. In front of it is a bust with a broken nose, symbolising impotence.


The third scene takes place in the room of a French doctor (M. de La Pillule). The Viscount is seated with his child mistress beside him, apparently having contracted venereal disease, as indicated by the black spot on his neck, Hogarth's symbol for those taking the mercurial pills which were the only known treatment for this ailment.

He holds towards the doctor a box of pills; other boxes on the chair and in his mistress's hand suggest he is seeking an alternative remedy. An older woman holds a clasp knife; she appears to be the young girl's mother.

The machines to the right, identified in the inscription on the open book, are for setting a broken shoulder, and drawing corks. A skeleton embraces a model in the cupboard behind the Viscount.


After the death of the old Earl the wife is now the Countess, with a coronet above her bed and over the dressing table, where she sits. She has also become a mother, and a child's teething coral hangs from her chair.

The lawyer Silvertongue invites her to a masquerade like the one to which he points, depicted on the screen. A group of visitors on the left listen to an opera singer, possibly a castrato, accompanied by a flautist.

An African page on the right unpacks a collection of curiosities bought at auction, including a figure of Actaeon. The paintings on the right wall show 'Lot and his Daughters' and 'Jupiter and Io' (after Correggio). On the left wall is a portrait of the lawyer and 'Rape of Ganymede' (after Michelangelo).


This episode takes place in a bagnio, originally a word used to describe coffee houses which offered Turkish baths, but by 1740 it signified a place where rooms could be provided for the night with no questions asked. A picture of a woman with a squirrel on her hand hanging behind the countess contains lewd undertones.

The Countess and the lawyer, her lover, have retired there after the masquerade. The young Earl has followed them and is dying from a wound inflicted by Silvertongue, who escapes through the window, while the Countess pleads forgiveness.

The noise of the fight has awakened the master of the house who appears through the door to the right with the Watch. On the rear wall is a tapestry of the 'Judgement of Solomon', and a painting of a courtesan is over the door.


Finally the Countess poisons herself in her grief and poverty-stricken widowhood, after her lover is hanged at Tyburn for murdering her husband. An old woman carrying her baby allows the child to give her a kiss, but the mark on her cheek and the calliper on her leg suggest that disease has been passed onto the next generation.

Commentary on the paintings from The National Gallery, London.

These pictures were at first poorly received by the public, to the great disappointment of the artist. He sold them to a Mr. Lane of Hillington for one hundred and twenty guineas. The frames alone had cost Hogarth four guineas each, so his initial remuneration for painting this valuable series was only sixteen shillings over a hundred pounds. From Mr. Lane's estate, they became the property of his nephew, Colonel Cawthorn. In the year 1797 they were sold by auction at Christie's, Pall Mall, for the sum of one thousand guineas; the liberal purchaser was John Julius Angerstein. They are now owned by the British government and part of the collection of the National Gallery.

It had been Hogarth's intention to follow the Marriage à-la-mode series with a companion series called The Happy Marriage, however, this series was never completed and only exists as a series of unfinished sketches. Hogarth's loss of interest was probably because a conventional and happy marriage gave little opportunity for barbed and ironic treatment of events.

Although this series of paintings are works of art in their own right, their original purpose was to provide the subjects for the series of engraved copper plate prints. By the nature of the process, when engraving copper plates, the image engraved on the plate by the engraver is reversed, that is to say, a mirror image of the final print. Normally, when undertaking paintings that are to be engraved, the painting is produced the "right way round" — not reversed — and then the engraver views it in a mirror as he undertakes the engraving. Hogarth was an engraver himself and disliked this course of action using mirrors, so unusually, he produced the paintings for Marriage à-la-mode already reversed so the engraver could directly copy them.

It would normally be expected to view the series of prints moving from left to right and Hogarth would have taken this into account when composing the original paintings.

Satire is the kind of artistic expression, that deals with a fragmented society; with a society or family or life that is no longer whole.  Satire is what happens when there isn't any decent family or society available for the main character to reconcile himself to, or when the desires he has aren't worth desiring, or when the actions he takes aren't worth taking. Satire is the shape of artistic expression that describes what our world is like when all anyone can see of it are disintegrated pieces.

Satire as a mode of human experience seems to have come out of primitive magic, ritual and curse. One of the earliest records of it as satire--that is satire identified as such--is in Aeschylus' time (circa 475 BC).  In between his short plays, men dressed as satyrs made fun of the actors--hence our modern word satiric.  But this practice was probably an outgrowth of Dionysian rituals that go back at least to 1200 BC.  Aristotle (384 -322 BC) guessed as much, that satire grew out of magic curses improvised and hurled at individuals by leaders of the Phallic songs. These magic phrases were designed to drive away evil influences so that the positive fertility magic of the phallus might begin working. It took place in a ritual that, eventually, developed into Greek Old Comedy.

But satire isn't just Greek in origin. Classical scholars will explain that while "satiric" comes from Greek "satyr," the noun "satire" comes from the Roman noun "satura," and so the term have both Greek and Roman origin.  But every tribe we know of made satires, because satire, as it's defined here, is a way humans think. And satires work. Ancient Irish  poets could compose an "aer" or satire that would blight crops, dry up milk, raise blotches on victims and ruin someone's character for ever. The earliest known Greek satirist, Archelochus (7th century BC) did the same thing: he wrote such a strong satire that not only his victim, a man named Lycambes, but also Lycambes' daughters hung themselves.

In ancient Arabia poets could kill, it is said, with satires, and satirical poets led troops into battle hurling satirical curses  the way the warriors hurled spears. There are records of occasional duels among Eskimos in the 20th century where their weapons were satirical phrases invented and hurled against each other.  The loser, could be exiled or even killed. People fear the power of satire. In Elizabethan England satire was prohibited by law and satiric verses were burned like witches. During the Vietnam War the counterculture waged satiric assaults against the country's war policy. Hundreds of people encircled the Pentagon and threatened to levitate by chanting (they tried).   And The Yippies tried to run a pig for President, Pigasus.  They were pursued by the F.B.I


Satirical works often contain "straight" humour, usually to give relief from what might otherwise be relentless preaching. Although this has always been so, it is probably more marked in modern satire. Yet some satire is not "funny", nor is meant to be. Obviously, not all humour - even on such topics as politics, religion or art, or using the great satirical tools of irony, parody, and burlesque - is necessarily "satirical"; the most light-hearted satire always has a serious "after-taste".

According to Dario Fo, the history of comic theatre shows a key difference and conflict between satire and good-humoured teasing, or sfottò, which is an ancient form of buffoonery. While satire has a subversive character, is against oppression by any power, and carries always a moral dimension, a serious analysis that gets to the roots of the issues; on the other hand, simple poking fun, benign parodying and mockery, is a form of comedy that isreactionary. Historically, power has tried to censor and violently repress real satire, but has loved good-humoured buffoonery. From this, Fo draws a criteria to tell real satire from sfottò, saying that one can tell real satire from the vehement reaction that arises in the powerful, which proves its effectiveness. Sfottò on a powerful individual, by focusing on superficial weaknesses, like ugliness, draws sympathy towards its target; Hermann Göring propagated jests and jokes against himself, with the aim of humanizing his image.

The great twentieth-century cartoonist David Low described William Hogarth as the grandfather of the political cartoon. What he meant was, that while Hogarth didn't quite set the template for political cartoons as we now recognise them (Gillray did that a generation later), the medium wouldn't be the same without him. There's a great deal of truth in this, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. Hogarth refined a pre-existing tradition of visual satire, taking it to previously unscaled heights of sophistication and skill. And, through the popularity of his output, he placed visual satire shoulder to shoulder with the textual satire of the times (the elderly Swift wrote a poem to the young Hogarth, praising him and proposing that they collaborate). But he also established a journalistic tradition that's still flourishing today.

Hogarth was in many ways a contradictory figure: a satirist who wanted to be part of the Establishment; a popular engraver who wished to be recognised as a serious artist. He succeeded in being all these things (although, in the first instance, at great personal cost). But first and foremost he was a polemicist. That may seem to be a pretty obvious thing to say when you look at A Rake's Progress (1735), or A Harlot's Progress (1732), or The Idle and Industrious Apprentice (1747), or Stages of Cruelty (1751). But what's truly interesting is the way he did it, because it was essentially contradictory.


Take his most famous print, Gin Lane (1751). At face value it is identical, in intention and effect, to a modern tabloid headline. It was inspired by a news story Hogarth heard about a woman who murdered her infant daughter so she could sell her clothes to buy gin - the equivalent of a banner headline today about teenagers killing a pensioner to steal £5 to buy crack. It's meant to shock; moreover, it's meant to shock the viewer into better behaviour. Thus its companion piece, Beer Street (also 1751), showing the advantages of honest English ale over evil foreign gin. To this end it was sold cheaply in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. In other words, it was a kind of proto-popular journalism, the first glimmer of the developing mass media.


And yet Gin Lane works on far more levels than that, quite apart from being a much better and more powerful image than Beer Street. For a start, it's an image of eighteenth- century London that many people probably now take at face value, almost as if it were a photograph. But despite the horror portrayed - infanticide, drunken oblivion, disinterment of corpses, starvation, beggary, poverty, impalement, suicide, debt, debauchery and the collapsing buildings standing as metaphor for the collapse of society in general - it's also intrinsically funny. True, it's a very, very dark kind of humour, but there's a morbid vivacity to it which is entirely absent from the prosperous contentment of Beer Street.

That's how satire works. You laugh almost despite yourself. The exaggeration is one of the triggers to make you laugh. Although we can pinpoint where Gin Lane probably was, it's doubtful that such scenes all happened together at the same time - hammering home the absurdity of the horror. And then that contradiction, the disjunction between horror and laughter, makes you laugh again. And then, with luck, you start thinking. That's exactly how today's political cartoons operate.

From Tate Etc

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