Before Depression
1660 - 1800

'Engraving the 18th-Century Blues: Hogarth's Representation of Depression'

Professor Peter Wagner (University of Koblenz-Landau)

One reason why Hogarth's engraved work has proved so fascinating for scholars from a variety of disciplines (history, medicine, psychology, literature, and art, to name just the most important) is the fact that his prints can be studied as meeting ground or palimpsest where established popular and polite forms of discourses mingle to produce ambiguous meaning. This is also the case with the subject of depression and what was known about it in the 18th century. Hogarth represents distinct forms of depression that reach from those brought on by alcoholic consumption (in A Midnight Modern Conversation, 1733, or plate 6 of A Rake's Progress, 1735), professional disappointment (in plate 7 of the Rake series and in The Distrest Poet, 1737), to sexual exhaustion (in Before and After, 1736, and Marriage A-la-Mode, 1745); and he also comments satirically on occasional consequences of depression - madness and even death (as in the final stage of the Rake series and his last engraving, Tail Piece, or The Bathos, 1764). My paper will discuss some of these prints in detail while trying to unearth the discourses that have entered these representations, as Hogarth drew not only on the medical knowledge of his day and age, but also on traditional forms of verbal and visual representations. Along the way, I will also cast a look at the self-representations of the artist that suggest his own gradual sliding into depression in the final decades of his life. My paper will thus have two aims. On the one hand, I will "read" some Hogarthian images in view of their commenting on depression, and on the other hand, I will try to show that Hogarth's engravings are not realistic comments on the subject but rather re-presentations (with a stress on the hyphen) of traditional verbal and visual forms of discourse on the subject. These re-presentations were adapted to the new Augustan (satirical), middle-class mentality.

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