Hogarth’s Britons represents something unique and interesting: an attempt to meld an artist primarily known for his views of London life and society, with the civic identity of Derby, roughly one-hundred-and-twenty miles north, a city never personally visited or depicted by Hogarth. It is an ambitious challenge, and one which Jaqueline Riding and Lucy Bamford accomplish successfully, creatively attuning latent anxieties regarding aspects of British morality and identity, which Hogarth’s works are well known to encapsulate, with experiences of Jacobitism from the city of Derby. Derby was, of course, a critical location in the 1745 Jacobite Rising, being the furthest point south reached by Charles Edward Stuart and his supporters. The exhibition posits that Jacobitism was the most urgent concern facing British supporters of the House of Hanover until the effective suppression of Jacobite supporters in 1745, after which point the spectre still lingered in political and social commentary, finding expression in British visual and material culture for a generation.
The exhibition is split across two rooms, with a small preface which efficiently provides some facts of the origins of Jacobitism in the seventeenth century. However, further context could also have been offered in this preface, as prior knowledge of the details surrounding the Exclusion Crisis and the Glorious Revolution is assumed. The first room, entitled “A Nation Divided”, explores the emergence of Jacobitism and expressions of support for the cause, as well as Hogarth’s presentations of perceived threats to his conceptions of British identities preceding the 1745 Jacobite Rising. This room is split into three parts: “Pretender or King”, “Liberty and Spirit”, and “Victims of Fashion”. The second room, entitled “A Kingdom at Stake”, explores the events of the Rising, particularly around Derby, and considers the aftermath, both generally across visual and material cultures, and specifically in relation to Hogarth’s career after this date. This is also split into three parts: “Civil War”, “United Kingdom?”, and “Last Battles”.
The first part of the exhibition, “Pretender or King”, introduces the Jacobite rival claimants to the British crown and presents the beginning of the Hanoverian dynasty, captured by Hogarth in his conversation-style painting of the family of George II (1731-2) (cat. no. 11). This first theme also establishes the perceived danger of Jacobitism, and the risk Jacobite sympathisers in Britain posed to domestic social order, setting the tone for the rest of the exhibition. Prints such as Southwark Fair (1733) (cat. no. 13) and Four Times of Day: Night (1738) (cat. no. 14) provide examples of acute intersections between Hogarth’s work and Jacobite anxieties, expressed through the plethora of overt symbolism and suggestive euphemism for which Hogarth’s works are renowned, all of which is convincingly decoded in the accompanying descriptions.
Hogarth’s work is replete with symbolism and thoroughly rewards scrutiny. Hence, it was heartening that the exhibition space included magnifying glasses for visitors to encourage close looking. However, it was somewhat disheartening that explanations to assist this engagement were inconsistent – there was ample discussion in some cases, such as Southwark Fair and Night, but scarcely any commentary in other cases later in the exhibition. On the one hand, this enables freedom for visitors to interpret work outside of prescribed viewpoints and avoids intimidating those who might be put off by dense textual plaques. On the other hand, it meant that essential elements in Hogarth’s compositions, decipherable to some eighteenth-century audiences, were sometimes lost. Nevertheless, the coincidence of wit and bawdy humour in Hogarth’s works makes them enjoyable on multiple levels, and the pleasure of the exhibition is not greatly diminished by an absence of intense scrutiny over complex symbolism. Too much emphasis on detailed minutiae (which in Hogarth’s work is abundant to the point of excess) could have become overwhelming and exhausting over the course of more than 100 exhibits.
Moving onto the exhibition’s second and shortest part, “Liberty and Spirit” provides glimpses into British life across the social spectrum of class, from shrimp girls (cat. no. 18) to country dances (cat. no. 20). This theme curates an idealised version of Britishness presented by Hogarth, seemingly free from insidious Jacobitism. In contrast, the next part, “Victims of Fashion”, explores influences of European styles and customs, suggesting a threat to Hogarth’s ideal, not from Jacobitism within, but from outside Britain.
It is here that we see a brief reference to racial dynamics in Georgian England, in Taste in High Life (1746) (cat. no. 26), engraved by an unknown artist after Hogarth’s painting. Attention is drawn to the fashionably dressed white woman stroking the chin of an enslaved child of African descent, but this simple identification could have been enriched by a discussion of contemporary anxieties about racial mixing implied by the direct skin-to-skin contact of the interaction. This encounter could, therefore, have further expanded into discussions of race and empire across the theme of fashion. For example, the question of how Hogarth reconciles Britain’s expanding global empire with his satirical criticisms of the importation of ‘foreign’ tastes is left unresolved. Some discussion of Hogarth’s complex relationship with Britain’s burgeoning empire, as demonstrated through prints such as The South Sea Scheme (c.1721) (not featured) which depicts the consequences of imperial commercial folly during the infamous South Sea Bubble, might also have contextualised the presence of a child of African descent in the white aristocratic domestic space of High Life, in light of Britain’s role in trading enslaved Africans.
The ideas which are explored in “Victims of Fashion”, mainly criticism of a foppish social elite and the corrupting influence of wealth and fashion, are the most classically ‘Hogarth’, and should be unsurprising to those acquainted with extant discourses on his life and works. As such, it is in this part of the exhibition that Marriage a-la Mode (1743) appears (cat. no. 27-32). Probably one of Hogarth’s most famous sequences, it would perhaps have been a disappointment for visitors not to see this collection of paintings in an exhibition on the artist. However, the presentation of Marriage without much assistance in reading the redolent symbolism makes it somewhat obsolete and difficult to reconcile with the overall thesis of the exhibition. Given the reputation of these paintings, therefore, more work needed to be done in order to countermand prevalent preconceptions that visitors might have from previous encounters and reframe them in reference to Jacobitism. Nonetheless, the transportation of six high-profile paintings, usually housed in the National Gallery, to a free exhibition at a regional Midlands museum has its own meretricious value in widening audiences to the nation’s art collection.
The second room builds on the importance of Derby within the 1745 Jacobite Rising, which can be traced throughout the rest of the museum and through the fabric of the city. Entering the room, “Civil War” covers the origins, events, and aftermath of the Rising. Gratifyingly, the portrait of Samuel Ward (1782) (cat. no. 44), honorary taster to Charles Edward Stuart during his residence in Derby, introduces a link to Derby’s great painter, Joseph Wright of Derby, whose works are exhibited elsewhere in the museum. Fantastic archives are also exhibited here, including personal letters between Charles Edward Stuart and his father (cat. no. 35). However, the archival and Derby-centric focus of this part of the exhibition means that the attention on Hogarth is pulled back slightly. Of thirty catalogue entries on display, only three are works by Hogarth. His splendid portrait of William Cavendish, 4th Duke Devonshire, (1741) (cat. no. 40) leads into discussion of the short-lived Derbyshire Blues regiment raised in 1745. The other two Hogarth exhibits are his portrait of his close friend David Garrick in the guise of Richard III (1746) (cat. no. 57) and his portrait of Lord Lovat (1746) (cat. no. 62), both best-selling prints of the period.
The provocative question implied by the punctuation of “United Kingdom?” establishes the theme of the next part of the exhibition, which explores fissures created after the 1745 Jacobite Rising was suppressed. It begins with the 1747 election, the first in the wake of the Rising, which returned a sizeable Whig majority thanks to the association between Jacobitism and Toryism established by Whiggish propaganda. Through Industry and Idleness (1747) (cat. no. 66 and 67), which depict the execution of the immoral Tom Idle at Tyburn and the election of the virtuous Francis Goodfellow as Mayor of London, the tension of binary opposition between Whig and Tory, and the choice of voters between prosperity and peace or pandemonium and destruction, is suggested. This is a convincing interpretation of these prints, which sets up the theme of duality and contrast for the rest of this part. However, Hogarth’s London bias which presented a challenge for this exhibition, as suggested by his conspicuous absence from the preceding “Civil War”, is evidenced in the emphasis on Tyburn and London in these prints.
The effectiveness of “United Kingdom?” lies in its simplicity. By merely presenting visual contrasts in direct conjunction with each other, a sense of division and factional alliance speaks for itself. The pairing of A Modern Hero (Prince Charles Edward Stuart) (c.1746), attributed to Louis Surugue (cat. no. 69), and Bernard Baron’s H.R.H The Duke of Cumberland with a View of the Routed Rebel Army near Culloden (1747) (cat. no. 70) was the best example of the theme of binary duality. The former aligns Charles Edward Stuart with his great-grandfather’s, King Charles I’s, portrait on horseback by Anthony van Dyck (1633), and the latter aligns Cumberland with his father, King George II, painted at the Battle of Dettingen by John Wootton (c.1743). Although these visual comparisons are clear to those familiar with the visual culture of the Stuart and Hanoverian royal courts, reproductions would have helped to cement the allegiances for those with less familiarity. The contrast between the depiction of Charles Edward Stuart in armour (cat. no. 71) and in highland dress was another strong example, demonstrating duality in the same person as appealing to contrasting audiences. The bizarre depiction of Scottish tartan in the ‘Harlequin portrait’ (c.1750), attributed to James Worsdale (cat. no. 72), is always a great inclusion in any Jacobite exhibition, usually able to provoke conversation even in generally disinterested viewers.
Departing from visual arts into material culture towards the end of this part was a masterstroke, evidencing how these divisions were expressed in everyday life by individuals rather than just how they were suggested by artists on paper, a welcome and valuable change of perspective. Accusations could be made that, for an artist so renowned for his work in print and paint as Hogarth, curators should have the confidence to let these works stand alone, instead of feeling compelled to incorporate additional elements of material culture, as is often a trend with print-led exhibitions. Yet, in this case, the incorporation of supplementary materials including garters bearing Jacobite sentiments (cat. no. 76), Jacobite jewellery (cat. no. 75, 79, 80), fans with Stuart symbols (cat. no. 74), and crockery depicting the likeness of Charles Edward Stuart (cat. no. 77, 81) as well as his opponent the Duke of Cumberland (cat. no. 86, 88), served to enhance the prints on display. These objects helped to situate Hogarth’s works in a more realised eighteenth-century world, particularly an eighteenth-century Derby which might have seen these or similar pieces during its brief occupation. Certainly, the newly discovered Allan Ramsay portrait of Charles Edward Stuart (1745) (cat. no. 34), on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, was returned to Derby for the first time since 1745.
It should be said, however, that the interaction between the prints and objects could have been more direct. Portfolio books of prints may have sat on the same tables which also held punch bowls and beer jugs bearing the likeness of Charles Edward Stuart (cat. no. 77, 81) or teapots and punch bowls decorated with portraits of the Duke of Cumberland (cat. no. 86, 88). Printed copies after painted portraits would have circulated far more broadly than the originals themselves on display in the exhibition. There were several printed and hand-painted fans on display, (cat. no. 6, 74, 82) and even a cockade bearing printed elements (cat. no. 54), which have textural and auditory similarities to the paper prints displayed around the room which would have rustled and crinkled when held. Mention of these intersections between print and material culture would have eased the transition from wall hangings to floor cases, creating a more harmonious overall experience of the exhibits.
Finally, “Last Battles” refers to Hogarth’s last works, the personal challenges he faced during the last years of his life, and the last vestiges of Jacobite resistance in Britain. The centrepiece of this part, and the apparent culmination of the exhibition, is Hogarth’s The March of the Guards to Finchley (1749-50) (cat. no. 91), on loan from the Foundling Museum where this exhibition originated. The painting is thankfully narrated, helping viewers comprehend the busy scene and acting as the perfect invitation for prolonged study. Another classic Hogarth cycle, the Humours of an Election (1755-8) (cat. no. 97-100), also makes a cameo here, although it is a shame that the colourful oil paintings could not be included. Thanks to the effective groundwork laid in the preceding sections, viewers should be adept in realising the Jacobite symbolism incorporated into these prints, some of which is highlighted by the accompanying description. The inclusion of this series demonstrates the longevity of Jacobitism and its associations in British politics after the 1747 election. A plate from Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty (1749) (cat. no. 95) and his portrait as Serjeant Painter to the King (1758) (cat. no. 103) also takes this theme of conflict beyond the literal and political battlefield into the cultural, characterising Hogarth as ‘battling’ for his vision for British art, calling back to the earlier “Liberty and Spirit”.
With this in mind, the final catalogue entry, Hogarth’s scathing print of John Wilkes (1763) (cat. no. 105) adds an ironic twist, asking what version of liberty Hogarth stands for. The presented reading accompanying this print, that Wilkes’s outrage at Hogarth’s The Times (cat. no. 104), was unwarranted and infringes on Hogarth’s creative liberties is also, I think, reflexive against Hogarth himself. Wilkes, brought to court on charges of sedition for criticising the avenue of peace pursued by Bute’s government and the newly crowned King George III, is discredited by Hogarth in this print as a leering scoundrel. This might be the result of a personal disagreement between Hogarth and Wilkes, made public through Wilkes’s lambasting of Hogarth’s wife and work, as suggested in the exhibition. But it might also be Hogarth shrewdly aligning himself with parliament and court in the hopes of securing further advancement. In this way, Hogarth’s satirical depiction of Wilkes tacitly condones the censorship of journalists like him. Debates ignited by this final print surrounding freedom of press, freedom of speech, creative freedom to offend through satire, all of which remain alive in contemporary Britain, bring the spectre of Jacobitism into 2023, the year in which we have seen the crowning of a new king whose lineage depended on effective Hanoverian resistance to Stuart insurgency.
Having detailed the exhibition’s impressive qualities, this brings me to what I consider a singular weakness of the exhibition: a failure to engage with materiality or production methods. Chance to explore production methods was presented, for example, by A Modern Hero, apparently based on Pierre Lombart’s engraving after Van Dyke’s portrait of King Charles I on horseback (c.1655-1700). Lombart’s engraving is known as the ‘headless horseman’ because of the changes made to the engraving plate, swapping the head of Charles I for Oliver Cromwell, including some impressions where the head of the figure is entirely effaced. The limited mention of Lombart’s plate without elaboration on the production technique which enabled these changes seems like an opportunity missed.
Alternatively, early in the exhibition is a mezzotint by John Smith after Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, the would-be King James III, (1688) (cat. no. 2). Stressing the laboriousness of mezzotint technique, buffing an image into existence from the burred surface of a plate, would have emphasised the care and sentimentality behind the print’s creation; it seems to have been a labour of love, Jacobite not merely for its subject matter but because of the process by which it was made. As it stands, this tender print is presented on the same level as the caustic graphic satire and acerbic commentary encapsulated within Hogarth’s line engraved prints of Lord Lovat and John Wilkes, on display in the next room. In these prints, the harshness of Hogarth’s moral judgement of these men is echoed in the violence of the sharp strokes of the burin against the plate which emphasises their grotesque features. Thus, even just a brief reference to materials and production could have opened up new avenues of interpretation for visitors.
Despite this singularity, Hogarth’s Britons is an unequivocal success and an exciting exhibition to be held, free of charge, in a regional museum, where it would not be out of place hosted at a national institution with priced entry. The tongue-in-cheek coincidence of exhibiting themes of succession in crisis over the coronation period only adds to its charm. As the genius of this exhibition in large part relies on its affiliation with Derby, it is unlikely to tour, and thus I would urge those who are able to make time to see it before it closes on 4th June. Those who sadly miss out on attendance might wish to consider the published catalogue, to which the numbers in this review correspond, which elaborates on the content of the exhibition.