food in the arts


William Hogarth/ARTISTS 1650-1899/ ART MAIN film and food
Hogarth began his career as an engraver, in a city where the display of graphic art was one of the backdrops of everyday life. In making his way within London’s artistic life, Hogarth soon began to specialise in graphic satire. The detailed and theatrical satirical prints Hogarth produced in the 1720s engaged with the great social and political issues of his time, ranging from the financial collapse of 1720, called the South Sea Bubble, to the fashionable craze for masquerades. They also saw him developing a highly experimental and self-consciously allusive form of printmaking, in which he responded to and borrowed from a remarkable variety of pictorial and textual materials.

As well as pursuing his ambitions as an engraver, Hogarth quickly turned to the world of painting. During the 1720s Hogarth regularly attended the newly-formed St Martin’s Lane Academy of artists and rubbed shoulders with established painters from home and abroad. This training soon paid off, and by the end of the decade Hogarth was becoming well established as a painter. He was celebrated in particular for canvases such as Falstaff Examining his Recruits and A Scene from the Beggar’s Opera, in which, for the first time, the dramatic works of William Shakespeare and John Gay were translated into painted form.

One of the most important and innovative branches of Hogarth’s art is the conversation piece, which typically depicts groups of figures who have come together for some kind of convivial or family occasion. In such small-scale pictures, whose settings range from grandly appointed ballrooms to fictionalised country estates, men, women and children act and interact according to the fashionable contemporary ideal of politeness, a term associated with the virtues of a restrained, polished and tolerant sociability. Hogarth depicts the art of politeness being practised and demonstrated through particular kinds of social ritual: the drinking of tea; the playing of genteel card-games; the appreciation of art, literature, and private forms of theatre; and, finally and most importantly of all, the ritual of conversation itself.

At the same time as they promote the benefits of polite sociability, Hogarth’s conversation pieces often extol the loyalties and virtues of family life. Painted in an era that saw the emergence of a modern ideal of the companionable family, works such as The Strode Family offer complex pictorial meditations on the emotions, memories and experiences that bind together the individual members of a family, and that can sometimes tear them tragically apart.

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Tate Gallery
Buckinham Palace – Royal Mews

The Strode Family, circa 1738

Oil on canvas
support: 870 x 915 mm
Bequeathed by Rev. William Finch 1880
In this beautifully painted canvas Hogarth pares down the indoor conversation piece to its pictorial essentials: rather than the choreographed crowds and packed interiors of the Wanstead Assembly, we are presented with five elegantly interrelated figures sitting in a refined but uncluttered interior. The most prominent figure, seated at the left of the table, is Hogarth’s patron, William Strode, who gestures to his old tutor, Dr Arthur Smyth, to join him and his family for tea and conversation.
Beer Street (third state) 1 February 1751
Etching and engraving on paper
390 x 326 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London
In the interest of polemics Gin Lane and Beer Street conform to the kind of polarised circumstances previously adopted by Hogarth in Industry and Idleness. Each represents an imagined ‘reality’; two contrasting urban scenes of order and disorder, prosperity and ruination, contentment and despair. The verses at the bottom emphasise a patriotic agenda, beer being the ‘happy Produce of our Isle’, that ‘warms each English generous Breast | With Liberty and Love’, while gin, which originates in Holland, is the ‘Damn’d cup’ that ‘cherishes with hellish Care, Theft, Murder, Perjury’. Beer Street therefore establishes a correlation between the drinking of native beer and the political, economic and social well-being of the nation.  
Gin Lane 1751
Etching and engraving on paper
357 x 305 mm
© Tate

In Gin Lane, the pawnbroker shop, the undertakers and the distillery are the only premises in good order. The rest of the townscape is marked by buildings that are toppling or derelict. In the streets the alcohol-fuelled crowds are being incited to riot or are pouring gin into their own or others’ mouths, including the very young. The central female figure seated on the stairs emphasises the ravages of alcoholism. Dishevelled, half-naked and oblivious to all but the snuff that she is taking, she allows her child to fall headlong into the stairwell of a gin-cellar and to certain death.

Marcellus Laroon
Crab Crab any Crab c.1688
Etching on paper
250 x 170 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London
Marcellus Laroon
The merry Milk Maid c.1688
Etching on paper
270 x 160 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

Laroon’s interpretation of London’s bustling street commerce is solid, robust and unsentimental. The majority of the figures are seen walking or turning, their flapping clothes adding to the sense of movement. Some are shown shouting or sounding their wares with instruments, which, with the accompanying titles (e.g. ‘Crab Crab any Crab’), attempts to evoke sound. As well as street pedlars, Laroon included other urban types, including a courtesan and street performers, such as ‘The famous Dutch Woman’, (displayed nearby).

William Hogarth
The Shrimp Girl c.1740 – 1745
Oil on Canvas
635 x 525 mm
© The National Gallery, London

Selling shellfish in the street was normally the work of the wives or daughters of fishmongers who ran stalls in markets. The Shrimp Girl is shown balancing a characteristically large dish-shaped basket on her head, in which can be seen mussels, shrimps and a half-pint pewter jug for measuring purposes.

The painting’s scale strongly suggests that Hogarth had embarked on this work as a portrait in its own right. The individuality and expressiveness of the face also point towards a life study. The rapid, broad brushstrokes and thin layers of paint accentuate the sense of movement and spontaneity in the turning figure, as if Hogarth had captured the woman walking past him in the street.

William Hogarth
O the Roast Beef of Old England (`The Gate of Calais’) 1748
Oil on canvas
788 x 945 mm © Tate

This painting was inspired by Hogarth’s ill-fated trip to France in 1748. While waiting in Calais for a boat home, he was seized by a French soldier as he sketched the old city gate. Having convinced his captors that he was an artist rather than a secret agent, he was summarily despatched to England. Hogarth expended all his Francophobic vitriol into the creation of this image, which is dominated by an English sirloin steak being slavered over by a gluttonous friar and a pair of half-starved soldiers. Famously, Hogarth inserts a self-portrait into the painting on the left, in which he is shown just on the point of being captured.

Text copyright Tate Gallery 2007