Black People in Britain: Hogarth - The Savage and the Civilised

William Hogarth's representations of black people in the 18th century.

Hogarth's 'Marriage à-la-mode', number 4: The Toilette. In over two dozen works Hogarth uses black people in an astonishing variety of ways, ranging from the La Motraye illustrations of 1724 to the Election series of 1750s. Sometimes black people are used as a literary device, as in the Burlington Gate print where Hogarth evokes the adage about 'washing a blackamoor white', or in the Rake's Progress sketch where he evokes the term 'black Masters' – Hogarth's satire in that painting being directed against collectors of dark and dingy art. At other times the black, like the black woman beating hemp in the prison scene of the Harlot's Progress , is an intricate detail in a complex narrative structure, involving an elaborate and cynical reference to Berkeley's Bermuda Scheme, Oglethorpe's Georgia Scheme and related ideas about the Christianisation of blacks and Indians in the colonies. It can be said that, wherever he is present, the black in Hogarth is seldom a mere background figure as he is in so many pieces of eighteenth century English art; indeed in works like the Beggar's Opera (the fourth version) and Moses Brought to Pharoah's Daughter the black is the comic centre of the picture, reminiscent of the way Hogarth normally uses children or dogs as devices to disturb the formal, pompous setting of some of his conversation pieces.

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