Research by Susan Auty
Acc No 212
Artist William Hogarth
Artist dates 1697-1764
Size Approximately 16 x 21 in (403 x 540 mm)
Medium Engraving on copper
Date produced 1754
Donor gift from Miss M A Briggs
Date donated 28 October 1946
William Hogarth is known for his scathing moral satires of English society, especially A Rake’s Progress (1735, on display today in the Soane Museum) and Marriage a La Mode (1743, held by the National Gallery). His attitude towards society is thought to have been shaped by his childhood, which saw his father, a publisher of Latin and Greek textbooks, imprisoned for debt in Hogarth’s early teens, thereby depriving him of university or any professional training. (1) After an unhappy apprenticeship in a silver workshop he took up jobbing engraving until his own series on The South Sea Scheme (c1721) and illustrations of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (1726) brought him some fame. He had enrolled in the art school of Sir James Thornhill in 1720, from whom he appears to have learned his oil painting technique, and whose daughter he married. He achieved success as a portrait painter as well as a moral satirist. His very large painting of David Garrick as Richard III (1745) may be seen in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. His ideas on Art and Beauty were published in 1753 in a volume called 'The Analysis of Beauty' in which he rails against strict academic theory, praising natural depictions against idealised versions of nature and the superiority of contemporary scenes over classical and religious illustrations. He argued against the use of straight lines in capturing the human form as an aberration of nature. (2) Most obvious of all in Election Entertainment is his preference for variety over symmetry.
This engraving is one of a series of four prints entitled An Election, based on very large oil paintings of 1754-55 documenting, in Hogarth’s inimitable way, the notorious activities of the 1754 Oxfordshire election. The paintings (each 3 by 5 feet) were purchased by David Garrick and later acquired by Sir John Soane, in whose house/museum they may still be seen today. The engraving of the first one, Election Entertainment, was done by Hogarth himself but he experienced great difficulty in achieving it and thus delayed work on the other three until suitably talented engravers could be found to transfer the paintings to the much smaller format. (3) Inevitably, there was loss of detail in reducing the very crowded canvas to an image approximately 16 by 21 inches (403 x 540 mm).
In the first engraving the scene is set to show disgraceful behaviour on the part of both candidates, who tried to outdo each other in bribing the greedy electorate. According to the Soane catalogue, (4) the Whigs (in orange in the paintings) tried to increase their majority in Parliament by contesting the Tory (depicted in blue) Oxfordshire seats. The ‘entertainment’ is a party given by the Whigs to gain support. The guests are at the tables with the two candidates at the far left, one of whom is being pestered by an old woman and the other by a couple of drunkards. At the other end is the Mayor, who is clearly suffering from an overindulgence in oysters with his fork still loaded, whilst his agent has just been struck with a brick thrown through the window by Tories outside.
The details are based on current political issues and can mostly be discerned in the engravings despite the smaller scale. In the foreground on the left is a Quaker examining an IOU, which is clearly meant to be a bribe. Moving along to the right is a boy adding more alcohol to the punch and a butcher filling a hole in the head of a thug, who has been wounded in his encounters with the mob, with alcohol. A banner showing ‘Give us our Eleven Days’ refers to the implementation of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, which resulted in a one-off loss of 11 days in September that year. Less visible in the engraving than the painting is the effigy of a Jew, carried by Tories, bearing the sign 'No Jews',
a reference to the recent Act of Parliament allowing the naturalisation of Jews. Whigs prevailed in passing the bill in 1754 but an outcry in the country saw it quickly repealed in 1755. (5)
The whole scene conveys the tumultuous activities on the part of the candidates and electorate that became notorious in the rest of the country
as a betrayal of democracy and civility. There is also a suggestion in the composition of a parody of the Last Supper.
(1) Bindman, David,
Hogarth, William, (1697-1764), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
(2) Hogarth, William,
Preface to The analysis of beauty: Written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste, London 1753