Six months before his death, Hogarth published what would be his last masterpiece, the Tailpiece, or The Bathos officially published on 17 April 1764, this was Hogarth’s last feature and self-proclaimed ending. In a commercial in the St James’s Chronicle for 14 April 1764 he announced: “it may serve as a tailpiece to the entire author’s engraved works when bound up together. ” It is depressing, negative mementos mori for the artistic, opinionated and civilizing worlds, as Hogarth establish them in mid eighteenth-century England.
The complete title of this last piece is The Bathos, or Manner of Sinking in Sublime Paintings inscribed to the Dealers in Dark Pictures. It is an sardonic, self-mocking heading, as a witty footnote makes clear, turning those attacks that had formerly been made on his own pictures of everyday life on to other artists’ work, directing his viewers to “see the manner of disgracing the most serious subjects, in many celebrated old pictures, by introducing low, absurd, obscene, and often profane circumstances into them.
” One might think that Hogarth already felt that he was near his death, and knew somehow that this piece would be his last work, thus, the depressingly gloomy state of his work. This writer surmise that somehow Hogarth, maybe in his simple arrogance wanted the people to know that even in his death he was able to find a ground on which he can do his work and leave a legacy that can be noted as gigantic and elemental. Hogarth alludes in this title, partly to Pope’s ‘Peri Bathous’ or The Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728), and partly to Edmund Burke’s ‘A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful’ (1757).
Pope’s writing style dissertation was a fairly cheerful satire on the unevenness of modern-day poets, whom he ridiculed by praising their skill in investigating anti-climactic pits. Hogarth’s print is a far more solemn satire on the state of the resourceful and political strata as he saw it, which he harassed by stuffing his work of art with a large amount of sinister and doom-laden imagery Hogarth becomes so involved in his images of death that what begins as satire ends up, like Pope’s Dunciad, as direst prediction.
Burke’s exhibition, accessible just a few years before Hogarth’s print, disputes that information of the awe inspiring are deep-seated in, and sensitized by, views of perceived terror, trepidation, inconsequentiality, anonymity and invisibility. Hogarth on the other hand, draws on as many explicit terminologies of such sentiments as he can to ascertain his transcendent revulsion at the imagery of artistic and intellectual decline that he felt delimited him and forces him to conform to norms.
Hogarth can be described as fanatical to the last due to the fact that a few months before his death, perhaps realizing that he was about to expire, he made a move to make sure that he be remembered for all time by executing an engraving mockingly titled Tail-Piece, or The Bathos, in which he sombrely depicted the downfall of his own imaginative world. In a sense one can conclude that it was visionary, for, as the 19th-century English painter John Constable rightly remarked, “Hogarth has no school, nor has he ever been imitated with tolerable success”
What was Hogarth’s vision of London? In one sense Hogarth is a lucky fellow, he was very talented in a way that he was able to portray not only in still images through his paintings, drawings and engravings but also through words and lyrics the essential thoughts that runs through his mind and runs from his mouth then to his hands. One might gather that in his work many instances prove that Hogarth may not have a very good view of London; he grew up as a poor lad with an unlucky father who ended up in jail due to failed ambitions that resulted in debts as was previously mentioned.
This left his mother having to fend for them by selling quack medicine. In an effort to help out, Hogarth left school and set out to work at an early age, apprenticing under Gamble to become an engraver, but even as he grew older and experiencing success he was still subjected to injustices when his popular works were copied and plagiarised that royalties for his work weren’t paid to him, this writer giving due notice that even at that time piracy or art piracy was rampant.
One can realize that most of Hogarth’s paintings were intended to be transformed into prints and often his paintings would be in sets of four, six or eight, depicting complex stories of morality or immorality, vices, prostitution and such. In 18th century England, furthermore, Hogarth’s paintings were an important and commanding societal and opinionated propaganda for those who can and cannot read, his graphic imagery leaves nothing to chance as to what he desires to depict .
When Hogarth rumbles against dishonesty, meanness and debauchery in the society he circles, he uses art as a battering ram, to get his point across, he calls for reforms where a generation later, he will find an ally in Jeremy Bentham. The extraordinary 18th century phenomenon were adhered to by both men, where the encyclopaedia and the engineering revolution, the museum and the art gallery, great leaps in scepticism and political values trudge into indisputable information and humanity, were the sensible consequences .
A good deal of what he saw about him in the London of his day – as he was indeed a born and bred Londoner – roused Hogarth’s anger and reforming fervour. He detested the metropolitan terror that awaited animals – cats strung up by their tails to fight to the death, a tormented dog infuriated by a bone tied to the origin of his tail, another held by two men while another sodomises it, and one was seen flung from a window; dogs were then hanged for their bad behaviour, forced to entice bulls, bears and each other for game, and disobedient sheep and exhausted horses were beaten till they die.
To think that it was only a little less savagely that men treat each other: while the wealthy grew voraciously fat, the deprived went hungry, driven to steal for food and get executed when caught; the crazy were incarcerated as such and treated as freak show entertainment for the sane, prostitution of both sexes was a structured trade and arbitrary and instantaneous sexual pleasure urgently routine.
Teeth rot, tummy swelled, noses buckled under STDs mainly of syphilitic assault, sex and vulgarity were dominant – Hogarth in his thirties highlighted both with obvious hilarity – the ethical pressure of the Church of England was in profound decline and the community minister was likely to get caught with a prostitute like any other man. A hundred years later Baudelaire will give his immortal truism, “Fucking is the lyricism of the masses”, but one may realize that in Hogarth’s time there was nothing lyrical about sex and prostitution – it was considered as a barbaric activity in every level of society .
It may seem that Hogarth had a good (or bad) view of London, seeing it through his eyes one may think that his bluntness maybe admirable but one may also take into account that Hogarth’s view maybe blemished by his heavy-handedness, in the sense that his open and blunt response to every social problem was downright condemnation. The reek and nastiness of his artwork, Gin Lane and Beer Street, the gallows and jail, the private pleasure to be found in the brothel, drinking pubs and gambling houses, their eventual end in bankruptcy, sexually transmitted diseases, a trip to bedlam and ultimately death.
Hogarth saw it all but without humour or sentimentality. One might derive that Hogarth was angry and his anger fuelled his work and his common sense was superficial and is closeted by the rage he feels. He saw only what his anger coloured eyes could, the consequences of all that he despised, his rhetorical sermons became an over-emphatic rant in his unsophisticated insistence on excessive and repetitive detail to reinforce a point. For Hogarth it was not enough to tell the tale, his stories had to be reinforced by symbolism and exaggerated examples that were meant to astonish and impact the spectator.
On the other hand, one might consider that Hogarth’s “Modern Moral Subjects” as he called his work on satirical art, he gave a new turn to the English art network. Turning continental works of art into an entirely English form, owing to realism rather than idealism, cynicism rather than sanguinity, cheap prints rather than grandiose draperies and the rather unsympathetic Puritan judgment rather than the Catholic conviction of divine forgiveness. One might realize that although Hogarth was considered as the father of English Painting, one might surmise that painting per se is not what he is famous for.
Hogarth is known mostly for his satirical drawings and depictions of the societal and political strata of his time. And even as he made his money doing portraits and conversation pieces, one might come to realize that this is not what he had in mind for himself when he started to paint. It would seem that he is not interested in painting portraits but he had to, if he was to put food on the table and this too fuelled his disappointments. Hogarth’s prints show rich people as two-faced, self-important, corrupt and decadent while depicting the poor as more occupied by food, alcohol and sex.
He graphically portrays gambling, prostitution, murder, the torture of animals, infidelity, drug-taking and other criminal or objectionable activities. While being critical of people’s behaviour, he usually does so in a cheerful way, showing amusing looking characters even when he is disapproving of what they are doing. He is never bitter, always showing the lighter side of life. However, in all the series of paintings he produced, he shows a tragic ending, often which is very sad especially when contrasted to the first print in the series showing frequently a well meaning person being lead off course by society.
There is still humour shown in the tragedy, it still ends on a comical note, and the series is more an enjoyable journey, than a depressing end. Hogarth’s work is very much influenced by social life and culture, being based directly on the life of the times. His prints and paintings show a society which could be cruel to those who were not cautious, and vengeful against criminals. Hogarth’s aristocracy, with all the appearance of being pious and virtuous, turned out to have as many problems, and their lives as full of trouble, as the working classes.