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Exhibition Looks at Hogarth Prints of the 18th Century London Stage

April 15, 1997

Had you lived in London during the first half of the 18th century, you could have paid pittance to see David Garrick’s electrifying interpretations of Shakespeare or attend one of the masquerades organized by the King’s Master of Revels. In the streets, ballad sellers hawked their wares and criminals languished on public display in the stocks.

The Laughing Audience
Hogarth and the Shows of London
The Elvehjem Museum of Art

(larger version)

Garrick in the Character of Richard III
Hogarth and the Shows of London
The Elvehjem Museum of Art

(larger version)

Tacked to walls — and thoroughly discussed in all the coffeehouses — were the prints of William Hogarth, who depicted with wit and irony all the glories and shames of London.

Truth to tell, a good deal of what we know about life then we know from Hogarth’s prints. According to Andrew Stevens, curator of prints at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Elvehjem Museum of Art, one scene on which Hogarth often trained his satirical eye was the theater.

Accordingly, the Elvehjem will present an exhibition dedicated to “Hogarth and the Shows of London,” featuring 52 prints from both the museum’s permanent collection and also the private collection of Suzanne and Gerald Labiner.

Stevens says that Hogarth was among the first to satirize theatrical goings-on of his day, although his interests were not limited to the stage and its players. “He cast his mordant gaze upon the whole range of public entertainments to which Londoners flocked, borrowing from all the forms of shows of his time,” Stevens says. “He drew upon the processions that accompanied the seating of the Lord Mayor and those that followed street musicians, cock fights and the condemned to the gallows.”

One of Hogarth’s most remarked-upon artistic tendencies was his frequent rendering of “monsters,” grotesques and other curiosities from 18th century sideshows. According to Eric Rothstein, UW–Madison professor of English, Hogarth’s singular take on these figures greatly influenced later notions of beauty and its opposite.

Rothstein will lecture on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” in Hogarth’s prints on April 28. His talk will be one of three that afternoon. Phillip Harth, professor of English, will begin at 4 p.m. with a discussion on “Hogarth and Narrative Sequence.” Fellow professor of English Howard Weinbrot will follow with “Class Conflict and Tragedy in ‘Marriage a la Mode,'” concentrating on that print series from the Hogarth canon.

A special presentation April 30 at 4 p.m. by Barry Wind, UW-Milwaukee art historian, will consider “My Picture Was My Stage: Aspects of the Theater in Hogarth’s Work.”

In addition, curator Stevens will discuss “Showing and Revealing: Hogarth’s Reviewing of the London Show” May 2 at 4 p.m. He also will open the exhibition with a slide lecture April 26. All lectures will take place in L140 Elvehjem.

“Hogarth and the Shows of London” will run through June 24 in the Elvehjem’s Brittingham Gallery VII. All events will be free and open to the public. For more information, contact the museum at (608) 263-2246.