The London Observer: Engravings by William Hogarth
July 12 - September 22, 2002

London in the 1730s was a constantly expanding city and home to approximately 700,000 souls, with the population growing to nearly one million by the 1760s. An enormous city for its time, visitors were astounded at the throngs of people gathered in London's public places. It was here that William Hogarth would spend much of his career depicting this lively London crowd. From July 12 - September 22, 2002, visitors to the Crocker Art Museum will have the chance to view over 50 of his engravings and thereby have the opportunity to look through this window of London's past in The London Observer: Engravings by William Hogarth.

Born in London in 1697, William Hogarth spent his near the bustling Smithfield Market. In 1718, after finishing an apprenticeship with a silversmith, he turned to engraving and painting. One of his early prints was a handbill advertising the Smithfield Market clothing shop run by his two enterprising sisters, Mary and Ann. But it was Hogarth's illustrations for the novel Hudibras (1726), by Samuel Butler, where he experienced his first great success and public acclaim in 1732 with his engraved series A Harlot's Progress.

In his art, Hogarth combined the English talents for dry humor and biting satire with French rococo curves. He then applied those sentiments to a love of carousing common folk and low-life detail taken from Dutch and Flemish genre painting. Carefully designed and elaborate compositions reveal Hogarth's knowledge of the various European masters whose work he knew through printed and painted copies, and from first-hand contact. His greatest storylines can be seen in his successful integration of architectural elements, animals, drapery and other inanimate objects with the theatrical gestures, facial expressions, and constant movement of the characters depicted in his works. Hogarth's detailed interiors frequently display recognizable paintings along with other generalized types of pictures. These works of art enhance the storyline told in each series by acting as both decoration and mocking commentaries that address a character's particular shortcomings.

A pivotal figure in English art, Hogarth also can be viewed as part of a larger movement in eighteenth-century British culture-most notably in literature-toward portraying ordinary characters with real world problems. Stories, plays, music and works of art remained dramatic, sensationalistic and entertaining, but now these works described dilemmas that were believable and entertaining to the intended audience-the British public. John Gay's poem Trivia: Or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) described contemporary London life in vivid detail and Hogarth may have drawn inspiration from it for many of his series of engravings. Hogarth's own morality and heartfelt concern for his fellow man often appear tempered in his works by a wary recognition of the depravity, greed and self-delusion that are inseparable parts of human nature.

What Hogarth and numerous writers of his day understood all too well was that although stories and images may carry a moral and humane intent, scenes of debauchery drew crowds. During his career, Hogarth was fortunate to receive commissions for depictions of elevated topics, and he most likely would have enjoyed producing more of those. The images that made him memorable and relatively wealthy, however, were the street level dramas and misadventures on view in this exhibition.