The Works of William Hogarth, by John Trusler

The Bench.

Character, Caricatura, and Outre.

It having been universally acknowledged that Mr. Hogarth was one of the most ingenious painters of his age, and a man possessed of a vast store of humour, which he has sufficiently shown and displayed in his numerous productions; the general approbation his works receive, is not to be wondered at. But, as owing to the false notions of the public, not thoroughly acquainted with the true art of painting, he has been often called a caricaturer; when, in reality, caricatura was no part of his profession, he being a true copier of Nature; to set this matter right, and give the world a just definition of the words, character, caricatura, and outré, in which humorous painting principally consists, and to show their difference of meaning, he, in the year 1758, published this print; but, as it did not quite answer his purpose, giving an illustration of the word character only, he added, in the year 1764, the group of heads above, which he never lived to finish, though he worked upon it the day before his death. The lines between inverted commas are our author’s own words, and are engraved at the bottom of the plate.

“There are hardly any two things more essentially different than character and caricatura; nevertheless, they are usually confounded, and mistaken for each other; on which account this explanation is attempted.

“It has ever been allowed, that when a character is strongly marked in the living face, it may be considered as an index of the mind, to express which, with any degree of justness, in painting, requires the utmost efforts of a great master. Now that, which has of late years got the name of caricatura, is, or ought to be, totally divested of every stroke that hath a tendency to good drawing; it may be said to be a species of lines that are produced, rather by the hand of chance, than of skill; for the early scrawlings of a child, which do but barely hint the idea of a human face, will always be found to be like some person or other, and will often form such a comical resemblance, as, in all probability, the most eminent caricaturers of these times will not be able to equal, with design; because their ideas of objects are so much more perfect than children’s, that they will, unavoidably, introduce some kind of drawing; for all the humorous effects of the fashionable manner of caricaturing, chiefly depend on the surprise we are under, at finding ourselves caught with any sort of similitude in objects absolutely remote in their kind. Let it be observed, the more remote in their nature, the greater is the excellence of these pieces. As a proof of this, I remember a famous caricatura of a certain Italian singer, that struck at first sight, which consisted only of a straight perpendicular stroke, with a dot over. As to the French word outré, it is different from the rest, and signifies nothing more than the exaggerated outlines of a figure, all the parts of which may be, in other respects, a perfect and true picture of nature. A giant or a dwarf may be called a common man, outré. So any part, as a nose, or a leg, made bigger, or less than it ought to be, is that part outré, which is all that is to be understood by this word, injudiciously used to the prejudice of character."— Analysis of Beauty, chap. vi.

To prevent these distinctions being looked upon as dry and unentertaining, our author has, in this group of faces, ridiculed the want of capacity among some of our judges, or dispensers of the law, whose shallow discernment, natural disposition, or wilful inattention, is here perfectly described in their faces. One is amusing himself in the course of trial, with other business; another, in all the pride of self-importance, is examining a former deposition, wholly inattentive to that before him; the next is busied in thoughts quite foreign to the subject; and the senses of the last are locked fast in sleep.

The four sages on the Bench, are intended for Lord Chief Justice Sir John Willes, the principal figure; on his right hand, Sir Edward Clive; and on his left, Mr. Justice Bathurst, and the Hon. William Noel.

The Bench.

Last updated Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 11:28