Hoarders, spendthrifts, thieves, drunks, courtesans, gamblers, quack doctors, adulterers, and murders—this isn’t the new, fall TV line-up; this is what’s on view at the Blanton through Jan. 13, 2013. William Hogarth: Proceed with Caution exposes the sordid tales of several ne’er-do-wells in 18th-century London; but the message remains relevant to today’s audience. Don’t squander your money; don’t steal, lie or cheat; be honest and loyal; be kind to other people and to animals. Hogarth used printmaking as a means to steer society in a direction towards honor and riches. He contrasts virtuous lifestyles with ones fraught with corruption, ultimately leading to disgrace and dreadful consequences—typically, death. His message isn’t a subtle one.
In the mid 1720’s Hogarth was commissioned to create “conversation” paintings—group portraits with sitters engaging in genteel, social activities such as card playing. Unlike other artists painting in this genre, Hogarth used wit and drama to create lively interactions between the sitters and the audience. He soon saw the potential to pioneer a new genre—sequential art. Precursors to comic books, sequential artwork tells a story through a series of compositions. The five printed series on view at the Blanton are some of the finest visual narratives in this genre.
Hogarth does for 18th-century London what Shakespeare did for the Elizabethan era. Through his prints we know what sort of pastimes society engaged in and what people wore; he references contemporary gambling halls and taverns, newly published literature, current stage productions, and infamous criminals and prostitutes. Hogarth’s artwork serves as a window to London in the 1750’s.
Inspired by Hogarth’s storytelling and imagery, Stanley Kubrick directed, produced and wrote the screenplay for the 1975 British period film Barry Lyndon. Based on the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray, the film follows the exploits of an Irishman with questionable morals as he attempts to enter into English aristocracy. To achieve the 18th century ambience, Kubrick examined Hogarth’s paintings and prints to mimic costumes and social norms. In 1976 the film won four Academy Awards—Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score.
Hogarth’s prints have inspired art, literature, theatre, and film for over 250 years. Come to the Blanton for a rare opportunity to see several of his major works on view together. His narratives will guarantee an afternoon of pure entertainment and if you’re in need of a last minute Halloween costume, my guess is you’ll find inspiration in our galleries.
— Catherine Zinser, Blanton curatorial associate and curator of the exhibition