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Javier Docampo

British caricature in the 18th-century and William Hogarth URL:

Around the mid 18th century the satirical print and caricature reached in Great Britain an unseen development thanks to the work of William Hogarth (1697-1764). Building upon the double tradition of the Dutch satirical politics and the Italian caricatures, and having a higher degree of political freedom than in the continent, the English satirical engravings had a wide dissemination. These, together with  portraits and landscapes, make up the fundamental tripod of the British plastic tradition.

Hogarth has been traditionally considered the "father" of the English painting and engraving school, and without doubt, he is the first English author with a clearly defined personality that contributed to European art by providing a completely novel view, focused in his series of pictures called "modern moral subjects", which were later reproduced in engravings by Hogarth himself or by other professionals, and narrated a contemporary story with an exemplary character. This way, his most know works were produced: A Harlot's Progress (1731), A Rake's Progress (1735) or Marriage à-la-mode (1743). Hogarth was also a pioneer in the birth of the work of art's copyright as he managed to get the Parliament to approve a law by which it was forbidden to reproduce engravings of a work of art without the permission of the author, this way he avoided the unauthorized reproductions of his works that were affecting his incomes. The law would come to be known as the Hogarth Law and became a key stimulus for the business of prints.

Hogarth dignified the satirical prints when he transformed them into a new artistic mode as elaborated as any of the traditional genres. His example, as well as the demand for images of today in the turbulent years of the French Revolution and Napoleonic invasions, inaugurated what we now know as the century of the cartoonists. Basically two artists configured this period of time: James Gillray (1757-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). Both of them were very prolific, although each of their arts followed different paths due to their different temperament and training. If Gillray became the master of the most incisive political caricature using cruel and distorted images, the art of Rowlandson shows a much more friendly character with his satirical views of society intending to amuse the viewer, instead of transmitting political or ethical messages. Following their examples, it was between 1770 and 1820 when the most important period of English cartoons occurred, basically in parallel to the reign of George III. Shops multiplied exhibiting in their showcases the most recent pictures published and selling separate prints for little money, or alternatively renting full albums that could be enjoyed by all social classes. The political hot topics were the most abundant, although there were also plenty of small scandals, caricatures of any public figure, or the satire of social traditions, which were pictured in motley and colorful compositions.

When William IV became king in 1830, the brutal and direct hand-painted caricatures were already losing the interest of the public, and around 1840 they ceased to be published. The Victorian period that begins in 1837 was full of puritanism and hypocrisy and would not tolerate these mocking and violent images, so the authors had to tame down their level of satire and had to move into newspapers and magazines, of which probably the most representative was Punch, founded in 1841.

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