Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn

Method Copper engraving and etching
Artist William Hogarth
Published Invented, Painted, Engraved & Publish'd, by Wm. Hogarth, March the 25, 1738, According to Act of Parliament [J & J Boydell c.1795]
Dimensions Image 416 x 534 mm, Plate 445 x 562 mm, Sheet 463 x 603 mm
Notes Set within a barn, a group of actresses are shown preparing for their final performance of 'The Devil to Pay in Heaven', as is noted from the playbill on the bed in the lower left corner. The cast of classical deities is inscribed on the playbill, allowing the viewer to identify the various figures depicted by Hogarth. Central to the composition is the figure of Diana, identified by her crescent moon headdress. The woman's appearance greatly differs from what one would expect from a chaste goddess, with her hooped petticoat fallen down to her feet, and her low-cut blouse revealing her breasts. To her left is Flora, shown dusting her hair with flour in front of a broken mirror. Behind is Cupid, raised upon a ladder, retrieving a pair of stockings for Apollo, who is identified by the sun on his hat. Beside the actress playing Diana, two children wearing devils' costumes help themselves to a mug of beer. The woman next to the children, possibly their mother, appears horrified by their actions, but is occupied by the 'ghost', assisting in the bleeding of a cat from its tail. In the upper right corner, a man is shown peering into the barn through a hole in the roof, making reference to Actaeon, the mortal who accidentally stumbled across Diana and her nymphs bathing. The right foreground features Juno practising her lines, whilst Night, identified by her headdress embellished with stars, darns a hole in her stocking. Hogarth plays on the notion of vanitas, replacing symbols of death those of a far more comic nature. Before the figures of Juno and Night are a cloak wearing monkey urinating into a helmet, and kittens playing with an orb and a harp. Ganymede is presented to the left of the composition, partially dressed, and accepting a drink of gin from a Siren. The Siren is attended by Aurora, identifiable through the morning star present on her headdress. In the lower left corner, Jupiter's eagle is depicted feeding her child, with the food sitting upon a crown, beside which rests a sheet of paper inscribed with 'The Act against Strolling Players'. This sheet, along with the other resting on the bed, references the Licensing Act of 1737. A pivotal moment in theatrical history, the act was introduced as a means of controlling and censoring the theatre, particularly in terms of what was said about the British government.

Although 'Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn' was not part of Hogarth's well-known series 'Four Times of the Day', the images are complementary, and it appears as though Hogarth intended to sell the five prints together.

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.

Paulson 150 iv/iv, BM Satires 2403

Condition: Water stain to left side of sheet, slightly affecting image, small tear to bottom margin, minor toning.
Framing unmounted
Price £600.00
Stock ID 41654