Research by Susan Auty and Anne Matthews
Acc No 212 Election Entertainment
210 The Polling
209 Chairing the Member
Artist William Hogarth
Artist dates 1697-1764
Date produced 1754-55
Donor gift from Miss M A Briggs
Date donated 21 October 1946
Hogarth produced four scenes for his Election series. The second one, Canvassing for Votes, is not recorded as part of the Collection. However, Miss Briggs kindly donated 5 historical engravings, two of which are presently unlocated. One of these is listed below and it is possible that the unknown one may well be Canvassing for Votes and this would complete the series.
Miss Briggs also donated Historical Print, Civil War, an engraving by Charles Cattermole
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 series of four prints entitled An Election is 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.
Here, agents from both sides are using unscrupulous tactics to increase their votes or challenge opposing voters. A Whig voter, with a hook which replaces his amputated hand, is being legally challenged because he is placing his hook, rather than a hand, as legally prescribed, on the Bible.
It ridicules the lengths to which both parties will go to bring people to the polls; the Tories are bringing a mentally disabled man onto the platform to vote, meanwhile a dying man is being carried in behind him. In the background a woman in a carriage with a broken axle represents Britannia. Her coachmen are gambling, ignoring the fact that the carriage needs repairing.
CHAIRING THE MEMBER
In the last of the series one of the victorious Tory candidates is being carried through the streets on a chair in a traditional ceremony (the ultimate absurdity of the election being that a Whig Parliament immediately overruled a Tory victory). He is about to tumble down because one of his carriers has just been accidentally hit on the head by a flail - an implement for threshing corn, consisting of a wooden bar hinged or tied to a handle - carried by a Tory supporting rural labourer who is attempting to fight off a Whig supporter, an old sailor with a bear.
A group of frightened pigs run across the scene in an implied reference to the story of the Garadene swine, one of the miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament, whereby Jesus, exorcising demons out of a man into a herd of swine, caused them to run down a hill and drown themselves.
The Whig leaders watch from a nearby house. At the right two young chimney sweeps appear to urinate on the bear. The disorder of the earlier scenes has now disrupted into open violence. (3) 6) (7)
The Election series depict Hogarth's belief that common people can turn into a rabid mob at the drop of a hat.
(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