The genius of Hogarth is such that he is often regarded as a solitary rebel against a decaying artificiality, and yet though he had no pupils, he had contemporaries who, while of lesser stature in one way and another, tended in the same direction.
William Hogarth expressed in his art the new mood of national elation, the critical spirit of the self-confident bourgeoisie and the liberal humanitarianism of his age. He was the first native-born English painter to become a hero of the Enlightenment. One reason for his popularity was that the genius of the age found its highest expression in wit. From Molire to Votaire, from Congreve through Swift and Pope to Fielding, the literature of wit was enriched on a scale unprecedent since antiquity. The great comic writers of the century exposed folly, scarified pretension and lashed hypocrisy and cruelty.
It was the great and single-handed achievement of Hogarth to establish comedy as a category in art to be rated as highly as comedy in literature. According to the hierarchy of artistic categories that was inherited from the Renaissance, istoria, --the narrative description of elevated themes, especially from the Bible and antiquity --was the highest branch of art measured by a scale which placed low-life genre at the bottom.
Hogarth was actually sensitive to the categorical deprecation of comic art, and with his friend Henry Fielding set about a campaign to raise its standing.
In a number of works and statements Hogarth identified his cause with comic literature. In his self -portrait of 1745 the oval canvas rests on the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift. Because his reasons for invoking literature were misunderstood, Hogarth exposed himself to the charge of being a "literary" artist. The legend of the literary painter can be traced back to his own age. "Other pictures we look at, "wrote Charles Lamb, "his prints we read." Some of the blame for aesthetic deprecation must be placed on the shoulders of Hogarth himself. He seems to have even encouraged an image which mystified his critics. He remarked of the connoisseurs "Because I hate them, they think I hate Titian and let them!" He outraged Horace Walpole by saying that he could paint a portrait as well as Van Dyck. He compared nature with art, to the desadvantage of the latter.
If his statements are examined carefully, it becomes apparent that he did not attack foreign art as such, that he passionately admired the Old Masters.
What manner of man was he who executed thse portraits--so various, so faithful, and so admirable? In the London National Gallery most of us have seen the best and most carefully finished series of his comic paintings, and the portrait of his own honest face, of which the bright blue eyes shine out from the canvas and give you an idea of that keen and brave look with which William Hogarth regarded the world. No man was ever less of a hero; you see him before you, and can fancy what he was --a jovial, honest London citizen, stout and sturdy; a hearly, plain-spoken man, loving his laugh, his friend, his glass, his roast-beef of Old England, and having a proper bourgeois scorn for foreign fiddlers, foregn singers, and, above all, for foreign painters, whom he held in the most amusing contempt.
Hogarth's "Portraits of Captain Coram"
Hogarth painted his portrait of Capitain Coram in 1740, and donated it the same year to the Foundling Hospital.
It was painted on Hogarth's own initiative, without having been commissioned, and was presented to a charitable institution in the making, one of whose founder members Hogarth was, and it depicts a friend of his, the prime mover of the whole undertaking. The very format of the picture shows that Hogarth was exerting all his powers to produce a masterpiece. It measures about 2.4 by 1.5 metres, the biggest portrait Hogarth ever painted.
In producing a work like this, of monumental proportions, where there was no purchaser to sistort the artist's intentions, Hogarth mst have had a definite aim or aims, and it is probable that he desired his work to express something of significance to him at this period of time.
The portrait is conceived in the great style, with foreground plus repoussoir, middle-ground, background, classical column and drapery. Coram is depicted sitting on a chair, which is placed on a platform with two steps leading up to it.
Hogarth makes use of the conventional scheme, traditional in portraits of rulers and noblemen, with its column, drapery and platform as laudatory symbols to stress the subject's dignity, a composition, which in the England of that time, was usually associated with Van Dyck's much admired but old-fashioned protraits of kings and noblemen. Hogarth's painting, with its attributes and symbols is not far removed form history painting. But the subject is a sea-captain, whose social position did not, by the fixed conventions for this category of picture, entitle him to this kind of portrayal. His relatively modest position in society is emphasized by his simple dress, a broad-coat of cloth, by the absence of the wig obligatory for every parson of standing, and by the intimace and realism with which the artist has depicted this figure with his broad, stocky body, shose short, bent legs do not reach the floor.
The mode of depiction refers back to , and creates in the beholder an expectation of a somewhat schematized and idealized manner of human portrayal. But by depicting Coram in an intimate and realistic fashion Hogarth breaks the mould. In one and the same work he has made use of the means of expression of both the great and the low style. By making apparent the low social status of his subject, Hogarth seems also to wish to breach the classic doctrine, whose scale of values provided the foundation of the theories about the division of painting into distinct categories, where the nature of the theme determined a picture's place on the scale "high" to "low".
5.2) Sir Joshua Reynolds(1723-1792)
To feel to the full the contrast between Reynolds and Hodarth, there is no better way than to look at their self-portraits. Hogarth's of 1745 in the Tate Gallery, Reynolds's of 1773 in the Royal Academy. Hogarth had a round face, with sensuous lips, and in his pictures looks you straight in face. He is accompanied by a pug-dog licking his lip and looking very much like his master. The dog sits in front of the painted oval frame in which the portrait appears--that is the Baroque trick of a picture within a picture. Reynolds scorns suck tricks. His official self-portrait shows him in an elegant pose with his glove in his hand, the body fitting nicely into the noble triangular outline which Raphael and Titian had favoured, and behind him on the right appears a bust of Michelangelo.
This portrait is clearly as programmatic as Hogarth's. Reynolds's promramme is known to us in the greatest detail. He gave altogether fifteen discourses to the students of the Academy, and they were all printed. And whereas Hogarth's Analysis of Beaty was admired by few and neglected by most--Reynolds's Discourses were international reading.
What did Reynolds plead for? His is on the whole a con sistent theory. "Study the great masters...who have stood the test of ages, " and especially "study the works to notice"; for "it is by being conversant with the invention of others that we learn to invent". Don't be "a mere copier of nature", don't "amuse mankind with the minute neatness of your imitations, endeavour to impress them by the grandeur of [...] ideas". Don't strive for "dazzling elegancies" of brushwork either, form is superior to colour, as idea is to ornament. The history painter is the painter of the highest order; for a subject ought to be "generally interesting". It is his right and duty to "deviate from vulgar and strict historical truth". So Reynolds would not have been tempted by the reporter's attitude to the painting of important con-temporary events. With such views on vulgar truth and general ideas, the portrait painter is ipso facto inferior to the history painter. Genre, and landscape and still life rank even lower. The student ought to keep his "principal attention fixed upon the higher excellencies. If you compass them, and compass nothing more, you are still first, class... You may be very imperfect, but still you are an imperfect artist of the highest order".