Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

William Hogarth's Satirical Vision of 18th-Century England

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

William Hogarth's Satirical Vision of 18th-Century England

Article excerpt

The scene is crammed with activity and detail: people, dogs, furniture, fashion.

It is a time machine back to 18th-century England.

A bride-to-be stares into the middle distance, utterly detached from what is going on around her, playing with her engagement ring, which has a handkerchief run through it.

Next to her, her aristocratic fiance, who might as well have an arrow pointing at him with the words "effete fop" on it, gazes admiringly at himself in a mirror.

Meanwhile, at the table, their respective parents, the broke earl of Squanderfield and the rich Alderman, are working out the financial terms of their children's marriage.

The two men are making a trade with an ancient and familiar pedigree: new money for old status.

Welcome to the England of the 1740s, and the first of six engravings by William Hogarth in which he traces out the whole sorry trajectory of a modern "Marriage a la Mode."

The series forms part of an exhibition, "Parody and Politics: The World of William Hogarth (1697-1764)," which will be at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens today through Sept. 15 thanks to the owner of the collection, Earle Newton of Ponte Vedra Beach and a grant from Bank of America.

Hogarth was a moralist who celebrated solid middle-class virtues, said Susan Gallo, a Cummer staffer who is guest curator of the exhibition.

His work still speaks to us today, she said: "It is still fresh. It is not dated."

Many of Hogarth's best-known engravings are on show at the Cummer, including the prints that make up the series A Harlot's Progress; A Rake's Progress; Industry and Idleness; An Election; and Four Times of Day.

Also included are such classics as Gin Lane, where a Londoner could get drunk for a penny and dead drunk for tuppence, as one of the city's 7,000 gin shops advertised.

The 52 prints in the collection touch on just about every aspect of English society of the period: rich folk, poor folk and the middling sort; city life and country life; work and play.

The prints offer windows into the overlapping worlds of brothel keepers, tavern owners, lawyers, doctors, clergy, politicians, aristocrats, upwardly mobile apprentices, business owners, magistrates and jailers, and raucous London street life.

Hogarth's sardonic vision offered his audience dark, raw satires of contemporary life, and he anchored his work on situations and real-life characters familiar or recognizable to his audience.

The earl of Squanderfield is going to spend the Alderman's money on completing a huge house, which can be glimpsed through the window. The mansion with its Palladian facade is not so very different from a well-known house of that period, Stowe House, mostly the creation of an alliance between an aristocratic family with a 700-year-old history and a family of successful London brewers with deep pockets and a daughter.

In the first panel of A Harlot's Progress, produced in 1731 and 1732, the woman who leads astray Moll the innocent country girl is one Mother Needham, a real-life procuress stoned to death in the pillory in 1731. …

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