I started my fellowship in Farmington one week early. I was traveling from Tel Aviv and I wanted to make sure that getting over jet-lag, orientating myself with the on-site materials and practical things like renting a car would not impinge on the precious research time. It turned out to be a good idea: by the start of the second week, I was well into my materials.
The first area I tackled related to my chapter on Hogarth’s French. I plunged into the three enormous volumes compiled by George Steevens who published The Genuine Works of William Hogarth with John Nichols (1808-17). I had never worked with anything like this before. To see the artist’s entire printed oeuvre laid out chronologically, page after page, taught me a huge amount. There were exceptionally fine, first states of the prints, rare states, plagiaries and forgeries, prints after drawings and contemporary ephemera like advertisements. The folios gave me an insight into ‘Hogarthomania’ and the ways in which the artist was being collected, catalogued and understood in the late eighteenth century.
Over the five weeks I was at Farmington I kept returning to William Hogarth, taking advantage of the possibilities I was being given to make close comparisons between his designs and prints by other artists. ‘Hogarth’s French’ is the third chapter of my book and it includes a consideration of a type of subject that had become familiar on the London print market in the 1730s. ‘Galante’ imagery featured young men and women relaxing together in urban or rural locations. The prints sold in sets with titles like The Four Ages of Man, The Four Elements or The Four Times of the Day and they were derived from French paintings by Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743) and Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736). Both were followers of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721); both had been reçu at the Académie Royale as painters of the fête galante and their pictorial subjects were closely connected to the material culture of Versailles. Lancret, for instance, was employed by the royal household to produce decorative panels and ceilings for the various royal residences. He adapted his galante imagery into portable paintings that were exhibited at the Salon. The subjects were duplicated, even triplicated and they sold widely as ‘fine’ sets of prints both in Paris and abroad.
London publishers like John Bowles with lots of stock and marketing networks extending into the provinces, commissioned English copies of Lancret’s prints. By 1735, Bowles was selling four sets of prints done ‘after Mons. Lancret’ and these included a version of Lancret’s Four Times of the Day. An additional version would be published in 1741. The English copies are smaller then the French originals; they carry new English verses and are often mezzotinted – a cheaper and quicker method of reproduction than engraving. The Lewis Walpole Library has an English set of Lancret’s Times of the Day that were published in 1741. The set offers a stunning example of cultural transfer: ie how a fashionable parisian subject could be imported and adapted to meet local demands. English copies of Lancret’s prints retailed at 4s/set, which was relatively cheap, and they were given new, satirical verses. The Englishing of French galante imagery was what I needed to see. The new iconography for the French that we see in Hogarth’s satirical paintings of the 1730s and 1740s, which includes figures like the dancing master in the Rake’s Levée (1733-5) and the Frenchman in Noon (1737-8), offered satirical adaptations of the men who featured in contemporary French prints of the galante kind.
Take Hogarth’s depiction of the Frenchman in Noon (1738) for example. The painting belongs to a quartet of images that he called The Four Times of the Day, as if in direct imitation of Lancret’s well-disseminated set. Instead of depicting, as Lancret did, genteel and flirty scenes in the countryside, Hogarth burlesques ideas of French galanterie, by depicting severe looking Huguenots streaming out of the midday service of a London church. They are led by a pretentious, aristocratic couple who appear dance as they proceed down the narrow street. Significantly, the French are separated by a narrow channel from a raucous group of English men and women shown fighting and flirting as they stand around a city inn.
Hogarth’s Noon incorporates low visual language and is obviously satirical but the print retailed as an exceptionally fine print and this is what I was able to understand by looking at Walpole’s Hogarth’s and comparing them with the cheaper, mezzotint copies of Lancret that publishers like John Bowles were selling at the same time. Hogarth rendered his Four Times of the Day in that signature French style – a combination of etching and engraving – and he printed his designs on fine quality ‘grand Eagle’ paper – the most expensive paper you could buy at the time. The sheet for Noon measures up much larger than an engraving from A Rake’s Progress, the ultra fine-quality reproductive engravings that he had published several years before. Simultaneously, I could refer to Hogarth’s ‘Catalogue of Prints’ that Steevens had pasted into Volume 1 of his folios. This told me that he was selling the set of four prints to which Noon belonged for £1.0.0.d ie five times more expensive than Bowles’s version of the Lancret set, meaning that on its publication in 1738, the Four Times of the Day was most expensive set of prints that Hogarth had ever produced. The research process therefore brought to life the extent to which Hogarth’s French characters were produced within expensive English parodies of French prints. Placed side by side with their French sources and with other ‘Englished’ versions, Hogarth’s burlesque of ‘Frenchness’ in the Four Times of the Day was packaged as a luxury product, but one that mirrored and distorted the features of a widely disseminated visual culture emanating from France.
Leave a Reply