An exhibition of prints by one of England’s most celebrated artists, William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 6 June. Comprising some 50 prints from the Madden Arnholz Collection, it includes many of Hogarth’s most famous print series such as A Harlot’s Progress and Marriage-á-la-Mode. The collection of some 2,000 Old Master prints was donated to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 1988 by Claire Madden, in memory of her daughter Étaín, and son-in-law Dr Friedrich Arnholz. Now housed as part of the IMMA Collection, the Madden Arnholz Collection constitutes an important part of the nation’s artistic archive.
Hogarth was one of the most innovative, versatile and influential of British artists, to the extent that the phrase “The Age of Hogarth” is frequently used to describe the first half of the 18th-century. A self-appointed commentator on the morals of his day, Hogarth made works that appear distinctly modern, as they address subjects such as crime, political corruption, sexuality and patriotism, issues which continue to preoccupy the contemporary world. A highly reputable painter, it is in the medium of copper-plate engraving that Hogarth truly excelled and for which he is arguably most famous. With his wit and satirical eye he used print-making to document the social and political mores and follies of the rich and poor of his day as he observed them in the urban setting of his native London.
A Harlot’s Progress (1732) deals with the hapless life of a prostitute. Her male counterpart in A Rake’s Progress (1735) describes the decline of a vain profligate young man into a life of debauchery and his ignominious death in Bedlam. His masterpiece Marriage-á-la-Mode (1743) questions the upper class folly of marriage for money while Beer Street (1751) and Gin Lane (1751) warn against the unpleasant consequences of alcoholism. The Times (1762) is Hogarth’s anti-war satire. The exhibition also includes a rich selection of individual prints including Self Portrait with Pug (1794); Southwark Fair (1733); The March to Finchley (1750); The Distrest Poet (1736) and Strolling Actresses dressing in a Barn (1738).
Hogarth’s relevance today is best illustrated in his later political works. Addressing the state of electioneering during this time, William Hogarth turned from his usual practice of social satire to make a series of politically motivated prints entitled Four Prints of an Election (1755-1758). The first of the prints, An Election Entertainment (1755) depicts a feast, held by the Whig Party candidates, which has turned into a drunken and debauched affair. The following print, Canvassing for Votes (1757), shows the opposing party, the Tories, participating in underhanded campaigning tactics, such as the solicitation of votes in exchange for money. The third print in the series, The Polling (1758), shows what an absolute mess the polling process was, while the fourth and final print, Chairing the Member (1758), depicts the resultant riotous Tory victory. These works represent the extension into the political realm of Hogarth’s unprecedented knack for representing moralistic tales of everyday life degraded by social ills.
Hogarth was the son of a shopkeeper mother and his father was a schoolmaster and publisher. After a brief apprenticeship as a silversmith, Hogarth studied for a time at Sir James Thornhill’s then recently opened art school. His first employment was in designing plates for booksellers until he began producing work on his own account. His first big financial success was with A Harlot’s Progress, a series of paintings from which he produced engravings in 1732. This was the first of the wholly innovatory genre that Hogarth called his ‘modern moral subjects’ and which first gave him his position as a great and original artist. Their humorous quality had little precedent in England and aided their wide reception, facilitated too by the new practice of exhibiting prints in shop windows, taverns and other public buildings, as well the newly established printseller shops. The piracy of his prints, which Hogarth fought fervently, led to the introduction in 1735 of a copyright law which became known as Hogarth’s Act.
An exhibition guide accompanies the exhibition.
William Hogarth Prints from the Madden Arnholz Collection continues until 9 September 2007. Admission is free.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am-5.30pm except Wednesday 10.30am-5.30pm Sundays and Bank Holidays 12 noon- 5.30pm Late Opening July – August Thursday Evenings until 8.00pm Mondays Closed
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