Set of 4 Mid 18th Century Black and White Engravings by William Hogarth of The ‘Prints of an Election’
Hogarth’s Election series was inspired by the notorious Oxfordshire contest in the General Election of 1754. The seats had been held, uncontested, by the Tories, since 1710. Then in 1752 the Whigs, who already held a large majority in Parliament, decided to contest the Oxfordshire seats and this heralded a two-year campaign characterised by unprecedented levels of bribery and corruption. These prints are based on the four paintings Hogarth started not long after the General Election. By this time the events in Oxfordshire had been widely publicised through journals and pamphlets. The paintings were bought from Hogarth by the actor David Garrick and later acquired by John Soane at an auction of the effects of Mrs Garrick in 1823. The Gentleman’s Magazine had been critical of Hogarth’s work calling it, ‘the very many disgusting, if not depraved exhibitions of human nature’ in the paintings. Fortunately Soane instead recognised them as the finest of Hogarth’s satirical works.
Circa1758 Price: £2,750-00p.
H:20.5”, 51.25 cms, W: 26.3”, 65.75 cms, D:1”, 2.5 cms.
We have taken the following from the book ‘Hogarth The Complete Engravings’ by Joseph Burke and Colin Caldwell, page 21, fourth paragraph:
The Four Prints of an Election (1755-8) is the supreme masterpiece of this period, his tour de force in mock-heroic baroque parody.
Notes on the Plates numbers 237-40:
The election satire was occasioned by the Oxfordshire election of 1754. The four prints were dedicated respectively to Henry Fox, later Baron Holland; Sir Charles Hanbury Williams; Sir Edward Walpole; and George Hay, MP, the first three being prominent in the Whig Party.
237. AN ELECTION ENTERTAINMENT. February 1755. Fourth State. By Hogarth, with assistance. Two Whig candidates for Parliament give a banquet to their supporters in the local inn while the rival Tory party parade outside the window. On this occasion there are no social distinctions between gentlemen and voter, and alcohol has contributed to the general sense of equality.
At the left of the first candidate, Sir Commodity Taxem, receives the confidence of a fat woman, a shoemaker pushes their heads closer together and turns his pipe out over the head of a knight, while a young girl admires his ring. In the next group a chimney sweep takes a similar opportunity to score off his social superior by squeezing painfully the hand of the second candidate in an affected demonstration of friendship and loyalty. A glutenous clergyman acts as the division between these groups and the two succeeding ones, in which the gentry are successfully amusing their social inferiors. At the other end of the table the Mayor is being bled by a surgeon after a surfeit of oysters. In front of the table a pedlar who has brought ribbons and knickknacks for sale as gifts looks with misgiving at a promissory note in lieu of cash. A butcher pours gin into the wound of a ruffian hired as a bodyguard, and the election agent is knocked down by a brick hurled through the window. Notice that the bodyguard is receiving gin both internally and externally. Before the door a Methodist refuses to accept a bribe, while his infuriated wife points to the ragged condition of their son.
The inscriptions, slogans, etc., refer to the rival policies of the Whigs and Tories, the former advocating ‘Liberty and Loyalty’ and the latter ‘Liberty and Property’. The Tories carry an effigy labelled ‘No Jews’ and oppose Excise Duty.
The scene is an illustration of the text, ‘He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, shall betray me’ (Matthew, 26:23) and contains motives from the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci, although the composition is a parody of baroque banquet scenes.
238. CANVASSING FOR VOTES. February 1757. Fifth state. Engraved by C. Grignion. The iconographic reference is to The Judgement of Hercules between Vice and Virtue, i.e., Tory and Whig. The sly farmer in the centre is in the happy position of being offered bribes simultaneously by two innkeepers, whose services have been retained as local agents.
The inn at the left is the Portobello, representing the floating vote. A barber and a cobbler argue about the quarrelsome Admiral Vernon, who had brilliantly captured Portobello (1739) with six ships of the line but failed disastrously to take Cartagena (1741). The inn on the right is The Royal Oak, the tree in which Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester. Being a Tory inn, it displays a showcloth satirizing the Whig Duke of Newcastle as ‘Punch Candidate for Guzzledown’, shovelling out bribes. The view of the Horse Guards by Hogarth’s bête noire, William Kent, shows an arch so low that the coachman’s head has been knocked off.
The Tory candidate buys trinkets from a Jewish pedlar to secure the local influence of the two beauties on the balcony. The hostess counts her profits in a chair contemptuously made out of the British Lion, who has lost some of his teeth but nevertheless devours the French fleur-de-lis. A soldier of the English guards displays a keen interest divided between her purse and her person.
In the distance in the Crown Inn, belonging to the innkeeper on the left. A disloyal crowd assaults it beneath a signpost which is being sawn down by a fanatic completely unaware that he is bringing about his own destruction as well as theirs.
239. THE FOLLOWING. February 1758. Third state. Engraved by Hogarth and La Cave. Both parties have rallied every possible voter, even the disabled, lunatic and dying, and criminals temporarily released from gaol. The two candidates are seated at the back of the booth, with a sleeping beadle between them.
The lawyers of the opposing parties argue over the oath of the old soldier, who takes it with his hook instead of his right hand, the first declaring that it is invalid, the second protesting against so scandalous as injustice to a patriot wounded in the service of his country.
In the background Britannia’s coach is about to be overturned while her coachman and footman play cards.
240. CHAIRING THE MEMBERS. January 1758. Third state. Engraved by Hogarth and F. Aviline. The two victorious candidates are shown in triumphal procession, the shadow of the second being seen on the wall. The central group is based on the sacre conversaziono of the Venetians and Rubens, the first Member of Parliament occupying the place of the Madonna on her throne. In accordance with Hogarth’s theory of comic form and inversion of ideas, a zig-zag pattern substitutes the serpentine line of the baroque, bearers take the place of the attendant Saints, and a fiddler leads the procession, in lieu of angels playing music.
The dominant theme of the various episodes is imminent disaster. The bear leader is responsible for two. By fighting with a countryman armed with a flail he precipitates the rush of the sow, who has already overturned a woman and her litter of pigs into the stream. His neglected bear, prying into the pannier of the ragged man on a donkey, causes the gun on the monkey’s back to be discharged in the direction of a chimney sweep. A young lady behind the wall faints with alarm on seeing the danger of the Member, to whom she is related.
The defeated Whigs jeer at the procession from the house of a lawyer, who alone prospers from their humiliations. The house next to his is in ruins.
The famous Whig politician and humourist George Bubb Doddington, later Baron Melcombe, was the model for the elected Member. About his head flies a goose in parody of the eagle flying over the head of Alexander the Great in Pietro da Cortona’s Battle of Arbela.