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Prints of Darkness: Goya and Hogarth in a Time of European Turmoil

Already a huge fan of Hogarth’s work, I was thrilled to discover ‘Print of Darkness’ on a recent trip to The Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

‘Prints of Darkness’ focuses on the work of William Hogarth and Francisco de Goya Lucientes. Both artists used their work as a form of social commentary, drawing attention to poverty, warfare, homelessness, alcoholism, corruption, disease and racism.

Hogarth was initially apprenticed as a silver engraver, having grown up in poverty. He was a talented artist and businessman and soon turned his attentions to printmaking as a way of expressing himself, showcasing his work to a wide audience and making money.

Goya was influenced by Hogarth, having seen his prints at his patron Sebastian Martinez’s home whilst recuperating from illness in 1793. At this time Spain was dominated by the interests of the Catholic Church and Monarchy and liberals like Goya fought for reform. His prints reflect his feelings, and he continued to produce them late into his life despite being plagued by mental and physical illness.

rake's progress engraving print by hogarth

‘The Rake’s Progress’ 1735. Hogarth pioneered the serial print format and called his series ‘progresses’ to reflect the movement of the central characters through their lives in a physical, social and moral sense. This series charts the life of Tom Rakewell. He inherits his father’s fortune but succumbs to materialism and is consumed by gambling and alcoholism, eventually ending up in a psychiatric hospital.

gin lane engraving print by hogarth

‘Gin Lane’ 1751. Alcoholism was a huge social problem in the eighteenth century and in this print Hogarth has created a nightmarish scene full of gin-crazed people. The print shows crime, corpses and diseased people willing to put gin before anything else – the lady in the foreground is willing to let her baby fall to the ground. Infant mortality was another result of the huge consumption of gin.

goya engraving print

As Goya grew older his subject matter became darker. This print is from ‘Los Disparates’, Goya’s final print series made between 1815 and 1823. The series is difficult to interpret, involving dark, grotesque figures in bleak, unrecognisable landscapes; perhaps reflecting the deterioration of  Goya’s own state of mind.