The Weight's Progress
10/09/2022 - 08/10/2022
William Hogarth was the Grandfather of British cartooning. He was a satirist, a moralist and a storyteller. His narrative works paved the way for what is now termed as sequential art by those keen to hoover up the crumbs from the table of proper art. He trained as an engraver and carried with him the burden of being considered self-taught his entire career. This was no doubt a slight aimed at him by the establishment to keep him in his place. When he exhibited his work at the Royal Academy he purposefully designed a frame that on the one hand made reference to the ornate and gilded woodwork of the great painters that surrounded him, but on the other poked fun at them by repurposing their timber to display what at the time were considered common reproductions. Cartooning has always been a means to prick pomposity, and the best way, and the most British way, is to take the piss. There is some pleasure in imagining the disdain that the doyens of British painting, now forever reproduced on tea towels, tote bags and mouse mats, may have expressed to find a mere engraver displayed amongst their fine art.
Hogarth was also a revolutionary; he was pivotal in the establishment of the Engravers Act of 1734, also known as Hogarth’s Act, which essentially allowed engravers to retain copyright over their work. The first thing he did after this was to print a series of eight etchings entitled “A Rake’s Progress”. These prints were based on a series of preparatory paintings he had undertaken over the previous two years. The narrative details the downfall of a young man, Tom Rakewell, who, having inherited his fathers fortune, moves to London and fritters it away in a blizzard of naivety and selfishness. It is a warning against the corruption of unearned wealth, of money in itself and of the stupidity of youthful men. The preparatory paintings are in the collection of the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn, housed in a cabinet that is ceremoniously opened several times a day so as to read them in the intended order. They are no doubt priceless. Just farther down the road, off Leicester Square, you can pick up a reproduction of the engravings for less than £50 a copy. William Hogarth died in the arms of his servant in 1764, having eaten a lot of meat and Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth
Original etchings and engravings (1734-1735)
Texts on the etchings is adapted from John Hoadly’s “Verses under the etchings of Mr. Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress”