Cruelty in Perfection, after William Hogarth
58.1 cm x 45 cm (22 7/8 in. x 17 11/16 in.)
(Dorrington, England, 1719 – 1804, London, England)
(Edinburgh, Scotland, 1763 - 1820, Rome, Italy)
(London, 1697 - 1764, London)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, 1991
William Hogarth’s reputation as a brilliant satirist and moralist is much in evidence in Cruelty in Perfection, the third vignette from his series The Four Stages of Cruelty. The first two stages show the main character abusing animals. In the third stage, shown here, the protagonist—who has murdered his mistress with whom he had plotted a burglary—is forced to confront his crime. The final stage features doctors dissecting his corpse, the noose of his execution still hanging around his neck.
Hogarth directed the message of cruelty’s retribution squarely at members of the working class, whom he hoped to scare into more civil behavior. To reduce the cost and heighten the appeal for his target audience (who were familiar with the woodcut aesthetic), he employed John Bell to reproduce the series in woodcut. But Bell cut only two of the scenes before the project became too costly for Hogarth to continue. He economized by etching the series himself, printing it on two qualities of paper, one more affordable than the other.