The  Portrait  of  Corrupted  Parties

and  a  Rotten  Society

Hogarth, William (1697 London 1764). Four Prints of an Election. Set of 4 sheet engravings by Thomas Cook (c. 1744 – London 1818). Inscribed: Hogarth pinx(t). / T. Cook, sculp(t). / Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees(,) & Orme(,) (May 1st. 1807 – Oct. 1st. 1809). Subject size 5¾-6⅛ × 7⅜-7¾ in (14.6-15.5 × 18.8-19.7 cm).

1. Humours of an Election Entertainment. – 2. Canvassing for Votes. – 3. Polling at the Hustings. – 4. Chairing the Members.

Hogarth’s  famous set full of contemporary allusions – belonging to his “most mature creations” (Th.-B.) and here in Cook’s small repetition – is

the  best  known  graphic  depiction  of  an  election  of  representatives .

Its origin in the classic country of parliamentarism imparts a particular significance to it. For it is at the same time – inspired by events in Oxfordshire during the elections of 1754, published 1755-58 – the portrait of not only corrupt politicians and parties, but of a rotten society as such. After all besides the usual feast and gorge documented on all plates as part of every election in Hogarth’s time bribery,

William Hogarth, The Election II

“ … first pursued systematically by Sir Robert Walpole and the Whigs, (was) practiced still far more scandalously than later; so it remained during the second half of the past century and till our days … Because then the possession of a parliamentary place was frequently regarded as a simple trade speculation, as the elected sold … his vote to the government for a sum of money, a sinecure, a post or a delivery, and thereupon could be re-elected by a  rotten  borough, a procedure which was so much easier as the minister Walpole had raised such a bribery of the members of the parliament – ‘every man has his price’ – literally to a system of government. Also Hogarth’s present plates give allusions of this ”


A wag who thinks at this of the independence of the representatives, the obligation to vote for the party line, and the election tickets given away by the parties today. And of the disgust the class of professional politicians causes with today’s voters when Thieme-Becker sum up:

William Hogarth, The Election III

“ … a delightful satire on the vice of bribery and

the  demoralization  of  the  people  tied  to  that . ”

But beyond the fullness of allusions Hogarth puts a special stamp on the abjectness and venal partiality of the whole proceedings. As these plates, too, are together caricatures or parodies of classic – and by this pure and clean – works from the Renaissance and Baroque:

William Hogarth, The Election I

So the first leaf up to the caption – not included in this version anymore – “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me” after Leonardo’s Last Supper. Followed by plate two with the farmer being bribed by both sides as inversion of The Choice of Hercules. The election itself in turn taking up Tizian’s Presentation of the Virgin, with Britannia herself in a broken-down chariot whose coachman plays cards on the box with the footman, trying – allegory of the actual election process in front – to cheat each other. The last leaf finally, the triumphal march of the elected new member of the parliament, even alludes to Alexander the Great in Le Brun’s Victory of Alexander over Darius. Wherein the imperial eagle there had to give way to a goose here. Which by that what it lets fall even anticipates the new member’s contribution to the parliamentary debate.

William Hogarth, The Election IV

This embedding in the canon of timeless art imparting to the set together and contrary to Lichtenberg’s reading that the pictures and their details were intelligible only from and in their own time

their  own  timelessness  valid  over  the  centuries .

Which is even stressed by Hogarth’ often ambiguous or – depending on time and position – differently interpretable sarcasm.

Offer no. 8,895 / EUR  375. / export price EUR  356. (c. US$ 412.) + shipping

– – – The same. Set of 4 sheet steel engravings. C. 1850. Inscribed. 5⅛-5¼ × 6¼-6⅜ in (12.9-13.5 × 15.8-16.2 cm).

Offer no. 12,169 / EUR  249. (c. US$ 288.) + shipping

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(Mr. M. W., November 20, 2011)