New Hunterian acquisition attributed to Hogarth

New research has revealed that a recent acquisition made by The Hunterian may be an early work by English painter, engraver and satirist William Hogarth (1697-1764). Best known for his ‘modern moral subjects’, Hogarth was also a painter of portraits, history and a leading engraver.

The research has been carried out by Hunterian curator Peter Black and an article making the case will be published in the April issue of the British Art Journal.

‌The work in question was acquired by The Hunterian from a private collection in 2013. It is painted on domestic pine panelling and illustrates a scene from ‘Hudibras’, the 17th-century satirical poem by Samuel Butler about life just after the English Civil War. It is the same scene that appears in Hogarth’s engraving ‘Hudibras Triumphant’.

The painting, which the research dates to c.1724-6, reveals that in addition to working as an engraver, the young Hogarth made decorative paintings in patrons’ houses. The panel formed part of a ‘painted room’ and although it is not known how the painting was separated from its original interior setting, it may provide the first concrete evidence of Hogarth’s activity as a house painter, which is mentioned in an anecdote from 1810 (Nichols and Steevens).

The significance of this research is far reaching. Attributions are made all the time and there is no official court that decides, however, if other experts agree that the work is genuine, an oil painting will be added to Hogarth’s oeuvre which predates his earliest known work, ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ of 1728, by some four years.

The attribution to Hogarth hinges on the relationship between the painting and two sets of ‘Hudibras’ engravings by Hogarth. The later, larger set of 1726 has a similar scene, ‘Hudibras Triumphant’, but the subject is absent from the earlier book illustrations.

Although Hogarth's ‘Hudibras’ prints are now among his least familiar works, his artistic success began with these illustrations which were popular and much copied by engravers exploiting the valuable print market, as well as by decorative painters.

Visitors to the Hunterian Art Gallery can make up their own minds about the work as it will be displayed on the Spotlight Wall with Hogarth’s relevant ‘Hudibras’ engravings from 5 February until 24 June 2016.

First published: 1 February 2016