France gets to know UK's satirical painter Hogarth

19th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 19, 2006 (AFP) - It has taken about 250 years but now the witty, gritty and innovative work of the pioneering English painter and engraver William Hogarth has crossed the Channel for the first time.

PARIS, Oct 19, 2006 (AFP) - It has taken about 250 years but now the witty, gritty and innovative work of the pioneering English painter and engraver William Hogarth has crossed the Channel for the first time.

*sidebar1*French art-lovers will be introduced to the influential artist, taught in English school history classes for his biting pictorial satire of 18th century urban Britain, in Paris from Friday.

And among the discoveries in store at the Louvre exhibition — the first devoted to Hogarth in France — are his role in instigating copyright and as an animal right's advocate, as well as his talent as a unique story-teller for the masses through pictures.

"The French audience hardly knows anything about his importance not only as an English artist but as an Enlightenment artist," Frederic Ogee, a Paris university English studies professor and one of the exhibition's organisers said.

Quickly realizing that paintings were viewed on the walls of just a select and wealthy few, Hogarth published his paintings as engravings as a more efficient way to reach the often illiterate masses.

The engravings circulated widely around Europe.

"I would almost say that Andy Warhol would not have existed without Hogarth," said Olivier Meslay, curator of the Louvre and co-organiser of the exhibition.

But despite the London-born artist, who lived from 1697 until 1764, being described as the first English artist to have achieved international fame, none of his works have made their way into European collections.

And the 45 paintings and 40 engravings, often moral, social, satirical and didactic in nature, on show here, have been lent by leading British museums and galleries, including the Tate Britain.

Most earlier artists who had worked in England were German or Flemish.

Hogarth's work chronicled the modern society of his day, which at the time was undergoing economic and social change, but he often also poked fun or brought humour through his eye for detail.

'Beer Street' and 'Gin Lane', examples of his visual satire, were published to support the Gin Act of 1751.

Raucous gin-swillers at death's door and a drunken woman too busy taking snuff to bother that she has dropped her baby were meant to show the mayhem caused by hard liquor, while happy, healthy people depict the positive properties of English ale.

No French painter can be compared to Hogarth, Meslay said, partly because none matched the English painter's story-telling style.

But he added: "There is nobody comparable because Hogarth was really interested in making his art available to almost anybody."

In Hogarth's six-part series 'A Harlot's Progress', sold by subscription, he depicted a naive country girl lured into prostitution in London, who ends up in prison, with syphillis and finally dead.

With the series, Hogarth became a victim of his own success as it was copied illegally, prompting him to become a prime sponsor of the first statute extending copyright to graphic artists, which became law in 1735.

He also tackled the subjects of arranged marriages, debauchery and gambling, but the exhibition also shows gentler so-called 'conversation pieces' of the English gentry in groups taking tea or playing music, as well as portraits.

"He was certainly the first to bring together social issues and high art, I think anywhere really," Ogee said.

So why has it taken so long for France to exhibit Hogarth?

"Art historians I think on this side of the Channel are not really sure what to do with the English school of art because it's neither a Northern school nor a Southern school," Ogee said.

Another reason, added Meslay was that the British themselves had "a sort of mixed feeling of inferiority and superiority" that English art was not good enough to be exported, but, at the same time, could not be understood properly by others.

But he said he believed that was quickly changing.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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