Blackpaint 693 – Hogarth, Racism and Sexism and all that…

Exhibition at Tate Britain, “Hogarth and Europe”, until 20th March 2022

The officer has to choose between Virtue and Pleasure, according to the wall plaque – V and P are represented by the two ladies, but it doesn’t say which lady represents which quality. I guess the pregnant one is Virtue. I was going to say that she is also the more attractive of the two, but for an old white man to express such an opinion is probably “sexist” in itself.

This is Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Hellfire Club, the well- known libertine; the lord is at his devotions. The wall plaque says that the picture is full of phallic symbols – I’m afraid I can find only two or three. What are they? I’m guessing the bum – shaped fruit(?) spilling from the plate; the phallic branch pointing up towards the little naked woman; and, by extension, the beads and crucifix penetrated by the branch. Probably the mask too. The much- maligned Dashwood should also be remembered for his charitable works: I was born in a house on the Dashwood Foundation estate in Balham, London, an estate set up for the housing of war disabled veterans and their families – but that might have been a later Dashwood. No local branch of the Hellfire Club there, in my time, unfortunately.

I’m not sure if this is a Hogarth; there are many pictures by his contemporaries in Europe, Troost, Chardin, Lancret etc. The black boy dressed in red is playing a trumpet; a little way behind, a dog, also dressed in red, but as a nobleman, walks on his hind legs. The commentator sees this as “racist”, presumably seeing an intended correlation between the dog and the boy. Assuming that the commentator is correct, is the problem only the staging of the event itself, or its depiction as well? Is the painter being racist in faithfully depicting a racist event? I would say no, but sometimes the distinction is blurred. Detail below, unfortunately also rather blurred.

Enough for now of “racism”, “sexism” and all the other slippery terminology of modern orthodoxy – a couple of lovely pictures of domestic calm by Chardin, who for some reason (maybe only because he is contemporary with Hogarth) is included in this exhibition.

And here’s another. Actually, I’m not sure that this is a Chardin, but it’s certainly a nice clean tablecloth, despite the overturned glass. Thank goodness though, that we no longer have to paint this sort of non-committed rubbish and can get on with art about refugees, asylum seekers, racial and sexual identity, discrimination, climate change, vaccine inequality and so on.

Actually, having indulged in such heavy sarcasm, I now have to go back to sexual politics, or behaviours, as depicted by Hogarth. There is a pair of paintings called “Before” and “After”. In the first, a typical toxic rake lays hands on a woman, who shows every sign of wanting to escape. She’s pulling away from him in desperation, and pushing – the caption says clawing – at his face.

In the second picture, “After”, the couple – for so they now are – appear reconciled and loving. Implication is crystal clear, so as always, I’ll explain: she didn’t know her own mind, she really wanted “it”, now she’s had it, she realises and is content.

Unlike the earlier, less clear points about racism, this carries an unmistakable message for which the painter alone is responsible; however, this is an attitude which is still around in our cultures. I’m thinking of such films as Straw Dogs, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (OK, they’re from the 70s and both Peckinpah films) – but there’s High Rise, Nymphomaniac, the TV series The Fall,,,

I’ll be going again to this, so more later.

National Gallery

Got to the NG today for the first time in a year or so, and picked some paintings that I’d never seen, or noticed, before:

Gerard David ?

Not sure I’ve got the attribution right – but what a fabulous picture! look at the tenderness of the caress by the woman of his head; yes, her arm’s a bit short, but the faces are just great. The woman at his feet, in the green dress,,,

Again, didn’t bother to find out who did this – Gainsborough, Reynolds? I’m a sucker for these pictures which are not completed, with areas of blank canvas next to other bits which are highly finished.

Adoration of the Magi, Pieter Breughel

I know this is an old favourite, but I had to include it; what a sinister bunch his three kings are. And what is the boy whispering into his ear?

Sorolla, Drunk Fishermen (?)

I’m sure of the painter, but not the title. This is a new one on me. A wonderful image of “toxic masculinity”, long may it last.

? Didn’t get the painter here, but as my son pointed out, the man on the right is clearly Vladimir Putin – so toxic masculinity again…


This is what you should watch at the first opportunity:

Emmylou Harris in concert on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1977. Her band includes Albert Lee on lead guitar.

Simon and Garfunkel, Central Park, 1981 – especially “America”, “American Tune” and “Late in the Evening”. The band and the drummer on “Evening” are special.

Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck and that amazing dobro player doing Freeborn Man, 9 Pound Hammer and Molly and Tenbrooks. The contrast between Rice’s stillness and Sam Bush’s Donegan-like demented thrashing is interesting…

A couple of my own paintings to finish with:

New Giant Fiery Hand

New Snail Crab Dance

That’s all for now




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