Travesty in the 18th Century: William Hogarth’s Modern Moral Subjects

Exhibition Website

Sep 14 2017 - Mar 11 2018

The museum’s Works on Paper Gallery comes alive with the work of the hilarious William Hogarth. One of the 18th century’s most influential artists, Hogarth is best known for his complex, satirical, and uncannily prescient images, through which he exposed humanity’s foibles by lampooning the conventions, lifestyles, and scandals of contemporary England. Inspired by the popular and plot-driven literary forms of the day—the comic opera, the bourgeois tragedy, and the serialized novel—Hogarth approached his subjects in the spirit (as he put it) of a “dramatic writer,” inventing a new genre called the “modern moral subject,” in which humor and tragedy merged with the purpose of teaching a lesson.

The exhibition focuses on a selection of prints from the museum’s collection, including The Rake’s Progress, a serialized group of eight images that mock the pitfalls of decadence by tracing the fortunes of the fictitious gambler Tom Rakewell; Beer Street and Gin Lane, which warn against the consequences of alcoholism by mordantly blaming gin for the ruin of a working-class neighborhood; and The Five Orders of Periwigs (pictured here), which chart the elaborate and often absurd semiotics of modish men’s hairstyles.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website 

  • Works on Paper
  • British
  • 18th Century
  • Political / Satire / Documentary
  • William Hogarth

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