The “Line of Beauty” and Satire: From Hogarth to Ruskin

Auteur / Author: 
Chinatsu KOBAYASHI (CRILCQ, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada)
Vendredi 26 Août 2011 - 14:00


In William Hogarth’s prints, text occurs in a variety of ways, from mere titles, to words appearing in the image itself, e.g., the inscription (to be discussed) “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” in “Morning”, from the series Four Times of the Day, and lengthy captions, some times in verse, e.g., in Gin Lane or in an advertisement for The Rake’s Progress. These provide a wealth of examples for discussion of the text/image relation in 18th century graphic satire, ranging from interpretative keys, as in the above-mentioned inscription, to literary allusions, e.g., the name “Moll Hackabout” in A Harlot’s Progress, which refers to Defoe’s picaresque novel, Moll Flanders. I am going to argue, however, that these specific relations can only understood properly through a reconstruction of the context of those prints, which includes where they were shown (e.g., the supper boxes in Vauxhall Gardens), and to whom they were shown, i.e., the male viewer of London’s emerging “polite society”. Thus one can explain how their gendered gaze was involved in the understanding of the satiric content of the images. In doing so, I shall pursue Mark Hallett’s suggestion (running contrary to Ronald Paulson’s original analyses, privileging an understanding of Hogarth’s prints in literary as well as merely moralistic terms) that Hogarth’s audience would have perceived the prints as a form of “topographic” satire. Thus, the ‘dialectical’ representation of masculinity, which frames the boundaries between gentlemen of the ‘polite society’ and the dubious characters populating London’s corrupted spaces, must extend to spectatorship itself, in order fully to recover the prints’ meaning. On a more methodological note, I shall argue that this approach involves imagination on the part of the art historian, in order to re-enact, in R.G. Collingwood’s sense, the viewers’ own imaginative responses to Hogarth’s prints.