Hogarth, Progress & Copyright

There is, I think, something very photographic about the work of William Hogarth, widely acknowledged as the father of visual satire for his works such as ‘Gin Lane‘ and ‘Marriage à-la-Mode‘. His paintings and the more widely disseminated etching made from them, which sold massively during his lifetime and still continue to sell almost 250 years after his death in 1764 are full of ‘decisive moments’, and rely very much on a feeling for gesture and symbol which would have made him as perceptive as a photojournalist. And as Martin Rowson says in his piece at the Tate on ‘The grandfather of satire‘, illustrated by an etching of ‘Beer Lane’, his work provides “an image of eighteenth-century London that many people probably now take at face value, almost as if it were a photograph.” The word ‘almost’ of course is important, and what Hogarth crams into a single image would take a photographic essay to explore, and the world of Hogarth is one of caricature rather than visual accuracy.

Hogarth sold and published his own work, and made a good living out of it, enough to buy a house in the country at Chiswick. Then it stood alone surrounded by fields, by the late nineteenth century it was on a pleasant village lane, and now it is more or less submerged by the Hogarth roundabout, with one of London’s more curious flyovers.  You can buy a print of Rowson’s take on this at Hogarth’s House and can see a rather unsharp version of it on Weekend Notes, which also has more about the museum which is free to visit and has two decent pubs a short walk away. But to see his paintings, visit the Soane Museum in Lincoln Fields, which you can see in the video by Ian Hislop in an article on Hogarth by The Idle Historian.

Hogarth was also important to photographers in helping to establish the principles of copyright (which was vital to his living as a print-maker), with the Engravers’ Copyright Act (also known as Hogarth’s Act) of 1735, providing the first real protection of artists copyrights, which in the course of time was extended to photographs, and is currently under severe attack from the Enterprise And Regulatory Reform Bill – with Stop43.org leading in putting forward the case for photographers.

I thought about Hogarth last week, as together with a few of my family we  small family outing to Chiswick for a meal together in a pub and then a visit to Hogarth’s House, now a small museum owned by the London Borough of Hounslow and then walked on through the grounds of Chiswick House to the station for the train home. You can see some more pictures from that outing on My London Dairy in Chiswick & Hogarth, and I’ll write a little more about them in a later post. But for the moment I’ll simply say that ‘No Nikons were used in their making.’


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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