Hogarth: Art and politics (1750-1764). Volume 3

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Rutgers University Press, 1993 - Art - 567 pages

This final volume takes Hogarth from his fifty-third year to his death at sixty-seven. The period opens with Hogarth at the height of his powers; a figure of influence with the literary generation of Richardson and Fielding known to an unprecedented spectrum of English men and women. At this point, Hogarth chose to philosophize about art, extending his successful practice into aesthetic theory, in The Analysis of Beauty (1753)--partly in reaction to the agitation for an art academy based on the French model, partly out of the conviction that his art required verbal validation, and partly (some contemporaries felt) out of hubris. At the same moment, the hard-won fabric of his reputation began to unravel. A new generation had arisen--some friendly and interested in building on Hogarth's achievement, but some determined to supercede what seemed to be a figure too insular to represent English art and culture to the world.

The consequences--given his own doggedness and the shifting allegiances of former friends--were tumultuous, and darkened the last years of Hogarth's life. For the first time in his career he found himself apparently out of step with his times--isolated and obsolescent. Although these cannot be called happy years, they elicited from Hogarth some of his most brilliant and audacious works, in writing as well as painting and engraving. In many ways he had already anticipated the Reynolds generation, pointing the way into the Promised Land, but disagreeing over the nature of that promise.

More than the earlier two volumes, Art and Politics focuses on the reception of Hogarth and his works. The paranoid strain in Hogarth responded to the notion of being attacked, reflecting his increasing fear of the general audience he had himself helped to create as no longer a public but a crowd.

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