Stephanie Howard-Smith is researching her doctoral dissertation in the English Department at Queen Mary on the cultural history of the lapdog in eighteenth-century Britain. Over the last year, she has also helped to curate an exhibition related to her research entitled ‘Pug’s Progress: William Hogarth and Animals’ at Hogarth’s House museum. This blog post describes some of her experiences while curating the exhibition.
‘Pug’s Progress: William Hogarth and Animals’ looks at animal life in early Georgian Britain as depicted in the work of the British artist William Hogarth. Hogarth is famous for his close relationship with his pets, especially a pug called Trump. Hogarth’s House is a historic house museum in Chiswick dedicated to the works of Hogarth, who used it as a country home in the last fifteen years of his life. It also has a gallery that holds temporary exhibitions on Hogarth, local history and local contemporary artists.
My intention with the exhibition was to take the animals out of the background of the prints and paintings, and place them in the foreground, as Hogarth did himself in his 1745 self-portrait, The Painter and his Pug. One drawback when exhibiting prints is that the casual visitor may be overwhelmed by a series of similar-sized, monochrome two-dimensional images all positioned at the same height. To break up this monotony, a graphic designer magnified images of animals from other Hogarth prints and these were arranged on the walls (a guide to the original images was also provided by the Chair of the William Hogarth Trust).
‘Pug’s Progress’ is divided into four sections; Hogarth’s Pugs, Animals in the Home, Animal Cruelty and Animals in the Street and Field respectively. The first section of the exhibition, which focuses on Hogarth’s relationship with his pug dogs (and the other animals owned by his family), is closely tied to my own research on the cultural history of the lapdog in the eighteenth century – my PhD thesis, ‘The Enlightenment Lapdog’, looks at the representation of lapdogs and lapdog-owners in eighteenth-century literary, visual and material culture.
Hogarth was exceptional among eighteenth-century lapdog owners (both real and fictional) for a variety of reasons. Whereas lapdogs were synonymous with a feminine obsession with luxury and fashion, Hogarth was both male and he purposefully cultivated an unpretentious persona. He was interested in satirising lifestyles associated with lapdog ownership in his prints, showing them to be excessive, luxurious and corrupting. Hogarth’s affection for his pug, Trump, is shown through one of the objects on display; Hogarth’s House was very kindly loaned a souvenir broadside Hogarth had printed with Trump’s name on it when they visited a frost fair held on the frozen Thames in 1740.
Hogarth is also well known for his opposition to animal cruelty, which he featured in a major print series called The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751), which argues forcefully that animal abuse leads to violence against humans. As the series was already on display in its entirety elsewhere in Hogarth’s House, we decided not to include it in the exhibition. In organizing the exhibition, the museum hoped to attract a younger audience, and this was considered too challenging. I was concerned that omitting The Four Stages of Cruelty might be a lacuna in a consideration of Hogarth and animals, as it makes such an important argument for Hogarth. His view was very influential in the late eighteenth-century, and writers discussing animal welfare frequently referred back to Hogarth’s prints. Instead, The Cockpit (1759) is on display next to a pair of eighteenth-century cockspurs. Whereas The Four Stages of Cruelty largely focuses on the cruelty inflicted on animals by poor children and workers, cockfighting was popular among all social classes and Hogarth’s print reflects this.
Hogarth’s focus on animal cruelty was rather radical during his lifetime, but so too was the manner in which he approached animals in his work generally. He was mocked for positioning Trump in front of his self-portrait-within-a-self-portrait in The Painter and his Pug. Hogarth was perhaps the first British artist to really interest himself in animals – Stubbs only published his first horse anatomy drawings a few years after Hogarth’s death. I hoped that the exhibition would satisfy visitors who find animal history interesting, as well as others who might be surprised how tracing the lives of dairy cattle, pet monkeys or dancing bears in eighteenth-century Britain could shine a light on aspects of Hogarth’s art and its historical context.
The exhibition is open until Sunday the 16th of October. Entry is free.
For more information visit: http://www.hounslow.info/arts-culture/historic-houses-museums/hogarth-house
All images are copyright of the rights owner and are used here for educational purposes only.