|Published||Invented, Painted, & Engrav'd by Wm. Hogarth, & Publish'd June ye. 25 1735, According to Act of Parliament. [John & Josiah Boydell, London 1790]|
|Dimensions||Images 320 x 390 mm, Plates 355 x 410 mm, Sheets 475 x 645 mm|
A complete set of eight engravings of Hogarth's most famous moral satire, A Rake's Progress, the successor to his highly lauded 'Harlot's Progress'. Aside from its celebrated subject matter, and its crystallisation of the Rake as an iconic stock caricature in English satire, the series also occupies an important part in the history of printmaking in the British Isles, coinciding with the the passing of 'Hogarth's Act.' Publication of the series was delayed by the artist in an attempt to curb the efforts of copyists, though before the passing of the law, a number of pirated editions had already appeared. The original oil paintings of the series are still extant, and are regarded as being amongst the most significant works in Sir John Soane's Museum.
Plate 1: Tom Rakewell, newly arrived in London after returning from Oxford, takes possession of his dead father's estate. The father, unlike his profligate son, was a notorious miser, the room bearing many indications of his penny-pinching ways. A gaunt and starving cat mewls pathetically, searching for food in a box filled with silver plate, while even a nearby Bible has not escaped Rakewell Senior's miserliness, its leather bindings cut to mend the sole of an old boot. In the background, a hunched serving woman prepares to stoke the rarely used fireplace with a bunch of sticks, while a carpenter engaged by Tom to fix up the cornices dislodges a hidden stash of coins. At centre, Tom is being fitted for a new suit of clothes, appealing to the distraught Sarah Young, his former paramour, and her furious mother. Sarah is pregnant, and carries a ring, suggesting Tom has recently backed out of a promise of marriage. Behind the central group, the grizzled family lawyer takes advantage of the distraction and helps himself to the old man's purse.
Paulson 132 iv/iv, BM Satires 2158
Plate 2: Tom, kitted out in a new suit of clothes, attends his morning levee. He is surrounded by attendants and hangers on, eager to capitalize on his liberality. The group includes a fencing master, who stares out at the viewer, thrusting forward with his epee, as well as a scowling quarterstaff teacher, a dancing master with a tiny violin, a careworn landscape architect, a former captain presenting himself as a bodyguard, a representative of the local Hunt blowing his herald's horn, and a jockey with a silver victory cup. To the left of the scene, a composer at a harpsichord, usually identified as Handel, practices a new opera on the 'Rape of the Sabines.' A discarded poem behind his chair is authored by Tom himself. The room itself is elegant, with high Georgian windows and arches, the walls decorated with rococo frames featuring a depiction of Venus and Mars, as well as a pair of fighting cocks. In the adjoining parlour, another group of attendants, including a tailor, a hatter, and a poet, awaits Tom's attention.
Paulson 133 iii/iv, BM Satires 2173
Plate 3: An orgy at the notorious Rose Tavern in Covent Garden sees Tom in a state of the utmost drunken excess. In the foreground, one of the prostitutes sits in her petticoats, pulling up her stockings after receiving Tom's attention. Her dress and corset lie in a pile beside her. Tom has turned his attention to her colleague, who strokes his chest while she robs him, passing his fob watch behind his back to a waiting accomplice. Behind them, the other women of the establishment quaff and spit at each other, while the predatory madam runs her hand across the throat of one of the younger women. In the background, a serving woman holds a candlestick to a map of the world, preparing to set the 'Totus Mundus' aflame. Beside the map, a series of portraits of Roman emperors have had their faces slashed by the drunkard Tom. Only Nero is left, an allegory for Tom's debauchery and the destructive fires, both physical and metaphorical, that he stokes with his actions.
Paulson 134 iii/iii, BM Satires 2188
Plate 4: Tom's debts have started to catch up with him, as he is pulled from his sedan chair by a group of Welsh bailiffs, leeks in their hats and arrest warrants in their hands. Tom seems genuinely surprised, but ultimately ungrateful, for the intervention of the good-hearted Sarah Young, who pays off the bailiffs from her own earnings, a box falling from her arm suggesting she is now employed as a milliner. A lamp-lighter, distracted by the scene, accidently pours oil over Tom's head, a perverse allusion to the Christian benediction Tom is too self-involved to appreciate. In the foreground, a group of urchins play at cards, while one of their number picks Tom's pockets. In the background, a lightning strike crashes above St James Palace, presaging future wickednesses and the inevitable Divine Wrath that will follow.
Paulson 135 iii/iii, BM Satires 2202
Plate 5: At St Marylebone, Tom has found a means to settle his debts by marrying a one-eyed spinster. The marriage is conducted quickly, no doubt in an attempt by Tom to prevent the interference of Sarah Young and her mother, who can be seen in the vestibule of the church, struggling with a servant in an attempt to object to the union. Sarah has recently been delivered of her baby. Tom, completely unconcerned by the commotion, already seems to have his eye on the attractive young servant tending to his new wife's veil. The church itself is in a state of disrepair, the poor box clogged with cobwebs.
Paulson 136 iv/iv, BM Satires 2211
Plate 6: In an attitude of utmost despair and desperation, Tom sinks to the floor, his newly restored wealth already squandered in a squalid gambling den. His wig and hat have fallen to the floor. His fellow gamblers either look on with disinterest, or else are so absorbed in their games that they fail to notice that the building itself is on fire, while the proprietors behind them desperately try to put it out.
Paulson 137 iii/iii, BM Satires 2223
Plate 7: Tom, his face set in an attitude of vacancy and dejection hinting at his coming madness, is imprisoned in the Fleet, London's notorious debtor's gaol. His squinting wife berates him for losing their wealth, while a beer-boy and a gaoler demand payment. Sarah Young, who still has not given up on Tom despite his faults, faints at the scene. Tom's cellmates, meanwhile, are engaged in various schemes to escape or buy back their freedom. In the background, an amateur alchemist attempts to produce gold from his crucible, while a large and elaborate set of feathered wings hint at the attempts of Daedalus to escape the fabled labyrinth and the demise of his hotheaded son Icarus. The room is littered with discarded papers, including a plan for relieving the national debt, and a rejection letter for one of Tom's plays.
Paulson 138, BM Satires 2236
Plate 8: The final chapter of Tom's tragic moral lesson ends in Bedlam, Bethlehem Hospital for the insane. Tom, grinning demonically, scratches at his scalp, supported by the weeping Sarah, while an attendant checks the fetters around his ankles. They are surrounded by a host of madmen, playing instruments, dressed in motley, or simply sitting vacantly nearby. In the cells behind, one man is gripped by religious ecstacy, streams of light illuminating his makeshift crucifix, while another, naked, imagines himself a king. Between the cells, yet another is utterly absorbed in his calculations, his chalked diagrams likely intended to represent the various attempts to improve the calculation of longitude following the Act of 1714. Behind him, a pair of fashionable young woman in pristine dresses amusedly examine the inmates and their various quirks.
Paulson 139, BM Satires 2246
William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. After apprenticeship to a goldsmith, he began to produce his own engraved designs in about 1710. He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs, but based on earlier Italian prints, of which the first was The Harlot's Progress (1731), and perhaps the most famous The Rake's Progress. His engravings were so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735, commonly referred to as 'Hogarth's Act,' as a protection for writers and artists. During the 1730s Hogarth also developed into an original painter of life-sized portraits, and created the first of several history paintings in the grand manner.
Condition: Excellent impressions with full margins. Minor waterstaining to left margin of sheets, not affecting plates or images. Small repaired tears to some margins, not affecting plates.