Portraits exist for all sorts of reasons – yet surely most commissioned likenesses seek to express the vigour and virility of a sitter, attributes which will, on canvas, outlast their physical lifetime. Is this really the way Schutz wanted to live in posterity? How many of us would choose to be remembered blowing chunks after a night on the Stella?
Hogarth is, of course, known for his moralizing pictures – among them Marriage a la Mode and Gin Lane. In these images he became the father of the modern comic strip, the first British artist to really straddle the realms of commercial mass produced art and gallery art – plus, arguably the first Brit to acknowledge that real art could also be funny. Satire was just taking off, and mass production of engravings was allowing independent publishers to sell affordable editions of prints which had a political and social as well as an artistic point to make.
The fact that multi-panel storytelling pictures enter British art at this moment can be no coincidence, either – for Hogarth’s work can be seen in a wider context where moralizing narrative became important in British literature – it was the age when the novel was born. From the pioneering efforts of Fielding and Richardson would be born a multi-million pound industry which continues to the present day.
Meanwhile, in ‘A Rake’s Progress’, Hogarth depicts Tom, the eponymous anti-hero, being sent to the horrendous Fleet debtor’s prison, where the artist’s own father was imprisoned for five years. The pictures were intended to amuse but never lose sight of a clear warning of moral danger.
The story continues to be rather amusing, too, as we follow the provenance of the picture as an heirloom down the the Schutz family generations. At a certain point the social embarrassment of prim upper class descendants gains the upper hand and the stream of vomit disappears, to be replaced by a newspaper! Vandalizing a family portrait to avoid blushes might seem a crazy and outrageous thing to do – but doubly so when you imagine some dull Victorian hack being paid to mess about with an original Hogarth portrait. Happily for us, though, the portrait has recently been restored to its puky glory.