Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

0088 Anne Puetz, Drawing from Fancy: The Intersection of Art and Design in Mid-Eighteenth-Century London

RIHA Journal 0088 | 27 March 2014 | Special Issue "When Art History Meets Design History"

Drawing from Fancy: The Intersection of Art and Design in Mid-Eighteenth-Century London*

Anne Puetz

Editing and peer review managed by:

Caroline Arscott, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London and Glenn Adamson, Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), New York City

Reviewers:

Jules Lubbock, Martina Droth

Abstract

This paper attempts to bring the world of mid-eighteenth-century British design into fruitful conversation with contemporary art theory and practice. Taking the neighbourhood and milieu of the St Martin's Lane area in London as a starting point, I investigate connections between British "rococo" design and William Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty in terms of shared formal values and contemporary implications of "modernity". I argue for a mutual indebtedness rather than "art" directing "design".

Contents


British Art History and the Early Modern Decorative Arts

  1. Art history's "contempt" for the decorative arts is rooted in distinctions that were first articulated in the Renaissance and became enshrined in subsequent academic theory and curatorial practice.1 Locating "fine" and "minor" arts and their perceived characteristics on opposite sides of a number of sharp divides – public/private; masculine/feminine; mind/hand; symbolic value/use value – denied the historic reality of significant connections between art and design in theory and practice. The division made by Britain's new Royal Academy between the "high" arts and the "inferior" application of design to manufactures, for instance, was evidently rhetorical and intended to cement the institution's position at the top of the artistic heap.2 This is clear from many lucrative collaborations between its students, associates, and even leading academicians with Wedgwood, Boulton, Tassie and other "art manufacturers".3 Indeed, as Celina Fox has recently demonstrated, many contemporaries defined the "arts" in much more comprehensive ways and yet it seems that in the context of British art and design a categorical "dulce aut utile", as expressed by Reynolds, has been the only model for the art historian researching the long eighteenth century.4

  2. British art history has recently developed several new directions to enrich, or challenge the dominance of the persuasive "civic humanist" reading of British art established in the 1980s. None, however, has really embraced the decorative arts. In his succinct analysis of these developments, Douglas Fordham outlines three related methodologies concentrating on questions of gender, space, and Empire to help move beyond the usual male, metropolitan, and "middling" persona of the artist or art consumer.5 But while recognition of the historical importance of female art production, for instance, has started to undermine old medium- and genre-based evaluative hierarchies, the field of professional design and the decorative arts is still largely excluded from consideration. In spite of her subtitle, Ann Bermingham for instance considers the concept of "design" and the cultural practice of drawing solely with regard to "fine art" and amateur activities.6 Yet the notion of "design" (as mental conception) relating to the crafts and manufactures and its realisation through drawing lie at the very heart of the burgeoning British art world of the early eighteenth century. The debate surrounding them provided the impetus for the long-drawn-out campaign for the institutionalisation of British art and art training.7

  3. In the following pages I'd like to place "useful" drawing at centre-stage, in the form of "design prints" published in London by and for carvers, furniture makers and silversmiths in the 1740s and 1750s – the highpoint of British "rococo".8 In Britain such works are usually the preserve of the specialist historian of one of the decorative arts, or they have walk-on parts in the writings of print scholars or cultural geographers. I would here like to consider whether they can be brought into conversation with more mainstream art-historical concerns, notably the art theory and practice of the towering artistic figure in these years, William Hogarth, whose Analysis of Beauty was published in 1753.

<top>

The Analysis of Beauty and the British Rococo

  1. Of course, the Analysis has long been linked to the rococo, and it is now customary to regard Hogarth's treatise as "the nearest the rococo ever came to a theoretical justification."9 As Paulson noted, it is exactly this perceived link between the Analysis and the rococo that renders the treatise baffling or inconsequential in older texts on British art: as style period terms go, the rococo had been particularly ill defined and/or negatively charged. In Wallace Jackson’s account, for instance, Hogarth’s dulce, that which gives true mental and visual pleasure, and is "best served by variety and intricacy", implies

the rococo values of intimacy and informality, and the beautiful is frequently associated with the terms "graceful", "elegant", and "genteel".10

  1. These values appear to describe the rococo in terms of the supposed qualities of mid-century group portraiture, landscape painting and the fête galante, rather than interior decoration and design, where the style originated and found its precisely definable expression. This is more indicative of traditional hierarchies of genres, and of mid-twentieth-century attempts to define the rococo as an all-embracing "Enlightenment" style, than it is of an attempt to recover original contexts of use and meaning.11 By contrast, when the rococo is understood more accurately as a style of decoration and design in this period, it is for that very reason marginalised as "minor", as is its "rationalization" in form of Hogarth's treatise, "a strangely eccentric document, a peculiar product of eighteenth-century empirical aesthetics."12

  2. In either case what is lost is the vital connection of the rococo to the "modernity" that was its perceived signature feature, evident in the eighteenth-century term by which the style was most commonly known to contemporaries: the "modern taste", a direct translation of the French "goût moderne".13 By focusing on aspects of "modernity", more recent scholarship has rescued the rococo and the Analysis from the accusation respectively of triviality (a frilly "overloading of ornament") and of insignificance in the context of eighteenth-century art theory.14 For Paulson, as earlier in the twentieth century for Burke, Hogarth's modernity, that which unleashes the "subversive energies of the Analysis", consists in an aesthetics based on the observation of the "everyday world of human choice and contingency."15 This approach Paulson characteristically roots in contemporary texts, in a comprehensive array of eighteenth-century philosophical and scientific writings, exemplifying modern empiricist tendencies of thought.16 Interestingly, what is absent in Paulson is a reference to the more down-to-earth connection of Hogarth's aesthetics to the world of contemporary design engraving, a reference, inter alia to Chippendale, that had been made, if somewhat disapprovingly, by earlier scholars like Waterhouse and Sypher.17

  3. For other writers from the 1990s onwards, eighteenth-century "modernity" has been understood above all in relation to a burgeoning commercial society and its associated socio-political developments. Studies of consumption are an important framework not only for the productions of contemporary design and manufactures, but also for Hogarth's Analysis, with its emphatic references to luxury and everyday manufactured goods, and to polite behaviour, as well as for the material culture so crucial to his "Modern Moral Subjects".

  4. While the idea of an eighteenth-century "mass" production and consumption proposed in the 1980s has long been refuted, there is general scholarly agreement that the emergence of a moneyed and leisured "middling" sector of society greatly increased the consumer base for the products of "culture". In matters of style, the related trio of "modern"/rococo, "Chinese" and "gothic", while attracting a fair number of elite supporters, has nonetheless been regarded as particularly associated with these new audiences. This is especially the case in negative accounts of style and audience, where the rococo was perceived to be strongly linked with "new money", and where the "modern" styles were condemned by critics as the creation of jumped-up artisans, displacing the nobler productions of true artists and architects in decorative schemes appropriate to these new audiences and their shaky foundations in taste.18

  5. Seen in a positive light, however, this large, often anonymous public and its consumption enabled contemporary artists, designers and manufacturers partially to disengage from the traditional, unreliable patronage by individuals, the church or court, and it was deliberately courted by them, often via the medium of the print. From this process of emancipation at the core of the artist-patron relationship, Patricia Crown has made connections to other perceived acts of liberation linked to the "modern taste", associating the stylistic freedom of the rococo (from the authority of "classical" antique and Renaissance models) with the alleged political independence of "the new social class", which included also the top tier of the very craftsmen and designers who made and sold objects in the "modern taste".19 While the precise political beliefs of mid eighteenth-century artists and craftsmen designers are impossible to reconstruct, the broader political charge of their productions has convincingly featured in recent scholarship.20 In relation to Hogarth's theory and practice, for instance, Diana Donald has made a persuasive case for the political nature of the artist's violation of academic rules, discussing his emphasis on the "real" and the "modern", his scattered focus and displays of "variety", with which I engage in more detail below, in relation to a wider critique of fixed standards of taste.21 She describes such critiques, expressed in texts from Bernard Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees (1714) to Allan Ramsay's A Dialogue on Taste (1755), as belonging to a developing nexus of ideas that linked naturalism in art with a peculiarly "British" freedom, including the freedom from aristocratic leadership in art and society.22 My PhD thesis broadly argued for the printed and published designs in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain as a mouthpiece for the expression of their authors' participation in debates of national importance – on "taste", on a national cultural identity, on the economic implications of design, and on the semantics of style – and Peter Nelson Lindfield has recently made a similar point about British "Gothic" furniture design as an integral part of a connection between "key intellectual, artistic and architectural debates" in the period from 1740 to 1840.23

  6. In my view one of the most interesting accounts of the Analysis has been provided by Annie Richardson, who reads the thesis in the context of the contemporary luxury debates.24 According to Richardson, Hogarth's sympathies with the materialist, "modern" tendency within these debates explain his uniqueness among eighteenth-century writers on philosophical aesthetics: his revolutionary, amoral grounding of beauty in the "substances of the human body" and, crucially, in forms echoing these substances, i.e. in contemporary fashion, design and polite ritual (dance). Richardson's reading suggests that Hogarth's thesis makes full sense only if seen in close connection to the material pursuits, "appetites" and fashions of "modern" life – precisely those aspects that Jackson and Sypher had dismissed as the text's mistaken emphasis, its catching "life at its minor tensions, its minor exchanges".25

<top>

"A Shell of Lines, Closely Connected Together"

  1. Here, I propose to reinvestigate the connections, formal and philosophical, between Hogarth's ground-breaking treatise and the "modern taste" in contemporary design prints. Such prints, and their authors, have not been the focus of art-historical scholarship, even where there is a general acknowledgement of Hogarth's association with rococo design.26 In the process, I hope to recover something of the overlooked conceptual distinction and symbolic value of published design. Such prints, traditionally huddling under the nineteenth-century umbrella term "engraved ornament", appear to sit in the art-historical blind spot due to their perceived utilitarianism, to the sense that they belong exclusively to the processes of object-making in other media and therefore have no artistic integrity of their own.27 Yet, while the precise role of design prints in workshop and manufacturing processes remains to be determined, and at any rate differed from industry to industry, available data suggests that we should consider such material as sources of inspiration rather than as models for the wholesale transposition of a design into another material, which was rare.28 More importantly, the fact of publication, and the expense of time and money that this involved, makes clear that their makers did not regard such works as akin to the utilitarian working drawing. Rather they saw them as vehicles for the display of inventiveness and stylistic sophistication, just as subsequent designers expressed their claim to the rank of "artist" in visual and written form, emphasising an appropriate set of skills, qualities and knowledge.29 An "undecidable" graphic genre, in Derrida's sense, the British design print deserves to be studied in depth. In this respect, my paper and thesis benefit from interesting perspectives on the treatment of interior decoration, design and "ornament" over the past two decades. The cultural significance, and symbolic value of designed objects and spaces have been examined, alongside more conventional questions of style and technical processes, in writings by Katie Scott, Mimi Hellmann, Carolyn Sargentson, Marta Ajmar-Wollheim, Viccy Coltman, Martina Droth, Michael Snodin, John Styles, Evelyn Welch, and Amanda Vickery, among others. The domestic interior, once marginalised as a "private" and "feminine" realm apart from the "public" arena, where developments of real political, social and artistic consequence take place, is now widely recognized as a site in which important cultural practices originate and are enacted, and where people define and represent themselves through the operations of "taste".30

  2. The recent, interdisciplinary focus on the subjectivity and agency of "things" by material culture scholars has in fact significantly undone old divisions of objects into "works of art" and "artefacts", possessing either "symbolic" or "use" value. For a recent research project at The Courtauld, it is the question of the "cleverness" of an object, and the nature and degree of this agency that unites the study of such disparate "art" and "non-art" things as a rococo folding screen, a Morris tapestry, a fourteenth-century drinking glass, a paper model, and a colonial Mexican painting on cloth.31

  3. In what is still more relevant to my argument, two significant published studies have recently addressed themselves precisely to the intersection between so-called "fine" and "decorative arts": the exhibition Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts (2008) and Caroline Arscott's book William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones: Interlacings (2008).32 Taking Shape blurs the line between the "fine" and the "decorative" by making plain the absurdity of allocating objects either "aesthetic/symbolic" or "use" value: it makes, of course, perfect sense to say that we can engage with a finely carved chair other than by sitting on it, that it may be "viewed" like sculpture rather than merely consumed in everyday usage. Interlacings, along with Arscott's recently published contribution to the "Clever Object" project, and her paper in this special issue, go further, persuasively arguing for the ability of certain decorative arts not only to affect the viewer aesthetically, but to articulate the kind of themes normally associated with "high" art, or to engage with significant contemporary debates.33 This approach radically alters our understanding of the expressive and conceptual potential of "ornament" and design. Both studies reveal a complex picture in which continuities and overlaps between different historic art practices outweigh perceived distinctions, and they set a useful model for more sophisticated analysis of historical periods, whose productions are often seen in terms of rigid divisions between "fine" and "decorative" arts.

  4. As far as my case study is concerned, the most obvious area of overlap is that of a shared neighbourhood: Hogarth lived, worked and taught cheek-by-jowl with some of the most enterprising craftsmen and designers of the period. In the vicinity of the house in Leicester Fields he inhabited from the 1730s operated more than a dozen leading carvers, gilders, designers, cabinet-makers and 'upholders'.34 Up-market St Martin's Lane, in particular, represented a veritable microcosm of interconnected activities in the fashionable "modern" taste, with its numerous prestigious cabinet-making firms, with Slaughter's Coffee House as the hub of the rococo milieu and with the important meeting and training ground of "Hogarth's" St Martin's Lane Academy. Nearby, at Lebeck's Head in the Strand, the patriotic Anti-Gallican Association had been meeting since 1745, and a year after the publication of the Analysis, the Society of Arts, another "improvement" society with Britain's economic competitiveness very much at heart, was founded at Rawthmells Coffee House in Henrietta Street.35

  5. To my mind, the physical proximity of people operating in the St Martin's Lane area and its environs suggests that one should think of mid eighteenth-century art production in terms of place and milieu rather than of vertical distinctions by medium or genre.36 Enlisting Hogarth's own image of "a thin shell, […] made up of very fine threads, closely connected together" to describe the "inner and outer surface" of a body, we might imagine a network linking eighteenth-century cultural practitioners of all kinds through shared spaces: neighbourhoods, memberships in "improvement", charitable and patriotic societies, training grounds and workshops, political, religious and masonic affiliations.37 A more comprehensive image of the "inside" of the London art world in the mid eighteenth century might thereby emerge.38 This is because such relations are generally more than the accidents of shared space. Hence I propose to discuss the contemporaneous blossoming of the design publication in London and the germination of Hogarth's radical art-theoretical thinking as related, rather than merely parallel developments.

<top>

A Paper Culture

  1. At a basic level, what these projects have in common is the print medium – in the case of Hogarth's Analysis, of course, in the form of a symbiotic combination of text and image – and, more generally, the fact of publication. It is evident that from the 1720s onwards, in a drive for emancipation from the domination by foreign imports and practitioners, British artists and architects used publication as a means of demonstrating native abilities, to establish themselves socially and professionally, and to reposition themselves vis-à-vis patronage at home. By the 1740s, men like James Gibbs and William Hogarth – not to mention Alexander Pope – had successfully demonstrated the advantages of replacing or supplementing unreliable one-to-one patronage by an appeal to the wider public via the printed product.39 With the encouragement of the copyright acts respectively of 1709 and 1735 ("Hogarth's Act"), authorship became an increasingly viable activity.40 In the context of the print market, the self-publishing engraver had emerged as a distinct artistic personality in opposition to the jobbing engraver, slavishly dependent on a printseller.41 The book and print trades also benefited greatly from important improvements in the country's infrastructure and communication networks.42

  2. It is this very "paper culture", (John Feather speaks of an "explosion" of the book trade following 1710) that I wish to highlight, together with the "design debate" discussed below, as the main driving force behind the sharp increase in British design publications from the 1740s.43 This is not just an argument about the circular or reciprocal nature of the book and print trade, in which an obviously profitable trade gave incentive to ever further publications. Rather, taking up Ogée's notion of British society as writing "itself up profusely in order to represent itself as it wished […] to be", I regard the production of design prints as part of that self-defining activity: the formation of a British cultural identity.44 The impetus to publish on matters of design, which, I would argue, exceeded motives of financial gain, arose from a process of emancipation among certain crafts- and tradesmen, which mirrored that of artists and architects. I see these crafts- and tradesmen emerging as part of a cultural marketplace, which is usually discussed in relation to "high" or at least representational art in Britain. If, as Maxine Berg has pointed out, the "middling ranks" expressed their cultural and social aspirations through the acquisition of particular commodities, it is surely true that the producers and mediators of designed goods could lay claim to these aspirations, to "culture, taste and style", too.45

<top>

Drawing From Fancy

  1. Printed designs, as Gibbs had already suggested in 1728, functioned as a kind of public "exhibition" of the individual's inventive powers and professional abilities.46 The publication of native design prints by craftsmen, which took off properly in the 1740s, was, I argue, the equivalent of contemporary artists' drive towards public exhibitions, a drive in which Hogarth was, of course, one of the main agents. What artists, architects and designers wanted to demonstrate above all was their ability to "draw from fancy", as Hogarth put it, rather than merely to execute.47 This aspiration needs to be seen against the background of a long-standing view, at home and abroad, that British artists were "dull" at invention; plodding copyists of the concepts of others at best and certainly inferior to the artists of Britain's old rival, France.48 This was not just a matter of national prestige, but of real material concern: the relationship between design and profit loomed large in contemporary discourse. In Robert Campbell's popular careers guide, The London Tradesman, for instance, the economic imperative of the invention of ever new patterns is reiterated again and again: Campbell paints a rather sardonic portrait of the successful tailor ("[…] his Wit not a Wool-gathering, but a Fashion-hunting […] he must be a perfect Proteus, change shapes as often as the Moon […]"49), while of the cabinet-maker he wrote:

A Youth who designs to make a Figure in this Branch must learn to draw; for upon this depends the Invention of new Fashions, and on that the Success of his Business: He who first hits upon any new Whim is sure to make by the Invention before it becomes common in the Trade; but he that must always wait for a new Fashion till it comes from Paris, or is hit upon by his Neighbour, is never likely to grow rich or eminent in his Way.50

  1. An ability to come up with ever new designs was crucial to help the craftsman compete with the French, whose superiority in design was based on the widespread, institutionalized teaching of draughtsmanship in France:

Drawing, or Designing is another Branch of Education that ought to be acquired early, and is of general Use in the lowest mechanic Arts. This is but little practised in England; and I take this Neglect to be the chief, if not the only Reason, why English Workmen are so much inferior to Foreigners, especially the French. This is the best Reason can be assigned why English Men are better at improving than finding out new Inventions. The French King is so sensible of the great Advantage of Drawing, that he has, at the public Expence [sic], erected Academies for teaching it in all the great Cities in his Dominions; […].51

  1. Here are the key concerns of a debate on design that had been in the making since the seventeenth century, and was at its height at the time of Campbell's writing: the need to compete with France in the production of luxury goods, the importance of "design" to the success of these goods, and the inability of the English to design because of the lack of a widespread instruction in draughtsmanship.52

  2. In spite of a somewhat prosaic focus on the nexus of design and profit, notions of an "enliven'd fancy", and protean inventiveness echoed an older and more venerable understanding of design: bringing into play the Renaissance definition of "disegno" as the visible expression of the artist's first thoughts on paper, embodiment of his intellectual, rather than manual, labour.53 In Britain, this idea had been appropriated by theorists and practitioners such as Jonathan Richardson in support of indigenous painters' claim to professional status.54 The further dissemination of this idea in more accessible form, including numerous semi-academic drawing books published from the early decades of the eighteenth century onwards, also brought it within reach of the ambitious craftsman. In Campbell's London Tradesman, for instance, the most "genteel" occupations are inevitably those with the greatest requirement of "design".55 Carving in particular was regarded as "a genteel Profession, and […] properly a Part of Sculpture", as well as a highly profitable one, and one that demanded a "natural genius" for, and early application to, drawing.56 It is therefore not surprising that, among craftsmen, the ambitious project of native architects of publishing their own designs, that had begun with Gibbs's Book of Architecture (1728) should have first been emulated by a carver, Matthias Lock.57 Wildly fluttering, spikily excrescent and frothing forms of ornament – such as we find them in works by Lock and Johnson discussed below have repeatedly been described, without much explanation, as a characteristic expression of the English, as opposed to the French, rococo.58 I regard the development of this unprecedented stylistic elaboration the outward marker of an untrammelled imagination as the craftsman-designer's rejoinder to the traditional notion that the British were "dull" at design by comparison to the French, and as a simultaneous claim to "artistic" status in the context of the mind and hand divide at home.59

<top>

Displays Of "Disegno": Matthias Lock

  1. Six Sconces, the earliest of a series of sets of engraved designs appeared in 1744, when Lock was in his thirties and at the height of his career: as an unusually talented representative of a highly regarded trade, Lock, as Heckscher suggested, initiated his programme of published designs out of dissatisfaction with the low status and anonymity of the craftsman.60 Lock literally stamped his name on the fashionable "modern taste", marking nearly every one of his prints with his authorship (M. Lock "fecit" or "inv.") and initially also his execution ("del.", "Sculp."). His audience probably consisted of a relatively small circle of specialists, of "upholders", cabinet-makers, fellow carvers and ambitious apprentices, clustered around his neighbourhood in the Covent Garden area.61

  2. While small in printrun and restricted in its distribution, Lock's publication venture was nonetheless aspirational as well as inspirational.62 In terms of style, the set of 1744, consisting of six numbered plates of designs for sconces, admittedly reveals a still somewhat impersonal treatment of the fashionable rococo, with a standard repertoire of scrolls, rocaille, foliage, dragons, masks and the like, applied rather regularly to solid, mainly symmetrical shapes. Nonetheless, the ambitiousness of Lock's display of his inventive abilities Six Sconces was the first patternbook for carvers' work in the "modern taste" to be published in Britain is evident in the comparatively large size of the plates, in the high price of three shillings for only six designs, and in the employment of a skilled writing engraver for the title, which, although terse, included a flamboyant rendering of the author's name. By the time he published the large, identically priced designs for Six Tables in 1746, Lock's handling of the "modern" idiom was more assured, and more intricate: seemingly effortless in the way it burst forth from the overall furniture shapes. It displayed, in elaborate form, the "flame-like energy and movement" of the ornamentation of his mature work to 1752.63 (fig. 1) This body of work, which was also characterised by a fashionable asymmetry, included the small Book of Ornaments of 1745 (cartouche motifs); a single, large cartouche of 1746; several tradecards, and two undated sets of about 1746: A New Drawing Book of Ornaments, Shields… &c., (a compendium of fashionable ornamentation shown in detailed close-up) (fig. 2), and the foliage primer, The Principles of Ornament, or the Youth's Guide to Drawing of Foliage. (fig. 4a)

1 Matthias Lock, unnumbered plate from Six Tables, 1746, etching. Victoria and Albert Museum, London museum number 27811:4. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2 Matthias Lock, unnumbered plate from A new Drawing Book of Ornaments, c. 1746, here shown as plate 3 of a reissue by John Weale 1858-1859, etching. Victoria and Albert Museum, London museum number E3875-1907. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  1. In the trajectory of Lock's published designs, these works of the 1740s are best described as the carver's exhibition of "disegno", as an embodiment of his claim to artistic status and to inventive genius in the "modern taste".64 Rather than "useful" pieces of furniture (such as the sconces and tables of 1744 and 1746), the majority of the works produced by Lock in the 1740s represent a virtuoso display of the characteristic, and complex, elements of the new style the asymmetric cartouches, rocaille, scrolls, and raffle foliage – in his own interpretation of vigorous, flame-like shapes, and rendered in a particularly free and loose etching technique.65 The employment of the latter was not just a fast and cost-effective way for Lock to put his designs into the public domain. More importantly, etching had for some time been considered "a kind of drawing", as Jonathan Richardson had put it in An Essay on the Art of Criticism, and came increasingly to be viewed, like drawing, as the visual expression of the artist's conceptual processes.66 The freer and less laboured the drawing (and by extension the etching), the more evident was the "living image" of the artist's spirit, as the influential writer Dézallier d'Argenville intimated in his remarks on the "true" connoisseur:

[il] voit dans un croquis, la manière de penser d'un grand maître, pour characteriser chaque objet avec peu de traits; son imagination animée par le beau feu qui règne dans le dessin, perce à travers ce que y manque; […].67

  1. In this context it is tempting to see in Lock's "inimitable etched hand", resulting in an appearance "more free-hand sketch than finished drawing", an aesthetic significance beyond the commercial advantage of cutting out the professional printmaker: an avoidance, rather, of the mechanic intermediary, and a means of imposing his creative personality on the new style in the most immediate way possible.68

  2. We have evidence to suggest that Lock succeeded in being recognized as an "artist" by peers and potential employers. In his autobiography, the carver Thomas Johnson makes much of the inspiration given to him by Lock, whom he describes, in characteristically chauvinistic manner, as "the famous Matthias Lock, a most excellent Carver, and reputed to be the best Ornament draughts-man in Europe."69 This praise was echoed shortly after Lock's death by the leading upholder James Cullen. Then working on an interior decorative project in the neoclassical style, Cullen asked an unknown correspondent to treat the drawings he enclosed as "valuable being designed and drawn by the famous Mr Matt Lock recently deceased who was reputed the best Draftsman in that way that had ever been in England."70

  3. It is, however, worth remembering that it is via his prints that Lock's gifts as a draughtsman and his vivid interpretation of the "modern" taste circulated most widely, and lastingly. That these prints were much sought-after, even a couple of decades after rococo's heyday, is suggested by the avid collection and re-issue of Lock plates by the leading "design" printseller Robert Sayer in the 1760s, by the production of piracies and imitations, and by the repeated publication of unrelated designs under a Lock title-plate.71

3 Gabriel Smith after John Linnell, two of five (?) unnumbered plates from A new Book of Ornaments useful for Silversmiths, &c., c. 1755, etching, 22.1 x 22.9cm. British Museum, London, museum number 1913, 1216.28. © Trustees of the British Museum

  1. The desire to display "disegno" may also explain the oddity that is John Linnell's A New Book of Ornaments.72 (fig. 3) Linnell did not generally publish his own designs, at least not in his main field of activity, cabinet-making. Moreover, if Linnell intended to take advantage of the scarcity of native design prints for silversmiths, – a field dominated by French publications and foreign practitioners – the eccentricity of his designs, which Snodin describes as an exercise in "extreme Rococo", would appear to be counterproductive.73 They certainly had very little influence on contemporary British silver production; a single condiment set was made by the London silversmith Arthur Annesley from Linnell's book in the designer's lifetime.74 The uniqueness of A New Book has been attributed to the combination of unusual sources consulted by the designer.75 Certainly, Linnell was somewhat out on a limb as a designer in a field outside his main activity of cabinet-making; however, the fact remains that he selected his sources deliberately and must have been aware of their unusual nature in the context of contemporary silver production.76 Rather than being an aberration, Linnell's vibrant interpretation of the rococo with its freely swirling forms, its rocaille and foliage seemingly melting into the body and its sculptural quality, reminiscent of Meissonnier indicates that the set was a vanity project in the best sense: a demonstration that this English designer was capable of unbounded imagination, the very quality usually denied to his countrymen. The fact that designs were sometimes produced as autonomous works, without a view either to practical applications or to commercial viability, points to their ability to serve a purely symbolic and rhetorical purpose.

<top>

Abstraction: Hogarth's "Visual Mnemonics" and the Principles of Ornament

  1. There is a close correspondence between Lock's set of drawing exercises utilising the "raffle" leaf and Hogarth's ideas about the "parsley leaf", illustrated in fig. 37, plate I of the Analysis (top right).77 The artist's remarks on the parsley leaf "from whence a beautiful foliage in ornament was originally taken" (i.e. the raffle leaf) mirror the thinking behind Matthias Lock's The Principles of Ornament, or the Youth's Guide to Drawing of Foliage of c. 1746. Published at the time when Hogarth was developing his art-theoretical concepts it seems that the idea originates with Lock rather than with the artist. Compare Hogarth's passage

The parsley-leaf […] is divided into three distinct passages; which are again divided into other odd numbers; and this method is observ'd, for the generality, in the leaves of all plants and flowers, the most simple of which are the trefoil and the cinquefoil.

  1. to Lock's caption

Upon this simple Principle all kind of Foliage is form'd & upon the well understanding these first eight Pages depends the knowledge of Foliage.78 (figs. 4ab)

4a Matthias Lock, plate 2 of The Principles of Ornament, or the Youth’s Guide to the Drawing of Foliage, c. 1746, here shown in a reissue of c. 1765 by Robert Sayer, etching, 13.4 x 20cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1934, accession number 34,90.2. © 2013. Image copyright The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

4b Matthias Lock, plate 1 (title) of The Principles of Ornament, or the Youth’s Guide to the Drawing of Foliage, c. 1746, here shown in a reissue of c. 1765 by Robert Sayer, etching. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, museum number 16366:1. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  1. The only difference is that Lock demonstrates the "Principle" in question, the progressive subdivision of each of the raffle leaf's "three distinct passages" in visual rather than written form over eight plates. The designer's progressive development of the raffle leaf ornament, from a simple to a very complex shape, brings to my mind the step-by-step construction of body parts in academic drawing books like Odoardo Fialeti's Il vero modo per dissegnar tutte le parti, et membra del corpo humano (Venice, 1608).79 The very ability to perceive a shape as simple as the raffle leaf in nature's complex foliages implies an analytical skill on the part of the designer or artist, and whether complex forms are created, or reduced to their barest essential – such as Hogarth's "serpentine line of beauty and grace" – the exercise is mental before it is manual.

  2. The emphasis on "principle" or "system" in Hogarth's Analysis as well as in contemporary ornamental drawing exercises is striking. The cabinet-making partnership of William Ince and John Mayhew, for instance, issued a collection of their designs in 1759, entitled The Universal System Of Household Furniture with a preface that included three pages of essential "Specimens of Ornament for Young Practitioners in Drawing". The second of these plates contains a large and complex foliage that is shaped like an inverted "S" – quite clearly the epitome of Hogarth's "serpentine line" – and bears a caption that explicitly connects the plates (and the book more widely) with Hogarth's ideas: "A Systimatical [sic] Raffle Leaf from the Line of Beauty".80

  3. The very purpose of Hogarth's text was to uncover "what the principles are in nature, by which we are directed to call the forms of some bodies beautiful" and to do so in an analytical manner. 81

  4. The implication of this focus on "principle" and "system" is clear: if something is not understood in terms of its underlying principles, it can never be properly known at all, and the artist or designer remains an accomplished copyist at best. By contrast, the process of reduction to "principle", what Paulson described as Hogarth's "visual mnemonics" is what allows the artist not only to recreate from memory what is not before his eyes but also to "invent" altogether.82

He who will thus take the pains of acquiring perfect ideas of the distances, bearings, and oppositions of several material points and lines in the surfaces of even the most irregular forms, will gradually arrive at the knack of recalling them into his mind when the objects are not before him […] and [they] will be of infinite service to those who invent and draw from fancy, as well as enable those to be more correct who draw from the life.83

  1. In the Analysis, empirically observed and analysable principle is expressly opposed to mindless learning by rote: in his preface, Hogarth writes that "unless it were known systematically, the whole business of grace could not be understood."84 And again in the introduction,

[…] they [readers] are in a much fairer way […] of gaining a perfect knowledge of the elegant and beautiful in artificial, as well as natural forms, by considering them in a systematical, but at the same time familiar way, than those who have been prepossess'd by dogmatic rules, taken from the perfomances of art only; […].85

  1. "Dogmatic rules" here clearly refer to the traditional principles of "high" art as codified by French seventeenth-century art theorists and more recently, and closer to home, expressed by the Earl of Shaftesbury.86 By implication therefore, design on the basis of "principle" is accessible to all observant and intelligent men (and women), whereas design relying on "dogma" requires admittance to elite and necessarily exclusive institutions, such as art academies on the French model.87 The appeal of Hogarth's political aesthetics to ambitious artisanal audiences is plausible and appears to be borne out by Ince and Mayhew's reference to the "Line of Beauty" and by the mixed membership of artists, designers and craftsmen at the St Martin's Lane Academy in these years.88

<top>

Formal Beauty: Hogarth's Analysisand the Design Print in the "Modern Taste"

  1. In spite of what appears to be the borrowing of Lock's raffle leaf concept, rococo ornament as such plays a minor role in the illustrations to Hogarth's Analysis, nor is there a reference to Lock – or indeed, to any other contemporary artist or designer. But this is entirely in keeping with Hogarth's need to be seen as the originator of new trends. Having pulled himself up from a lowly artisanal milieu by his own superior powers (above all of invention), he jealously guarded the hard-won epithet of artist and was evidently uninterested in spreading artistic knowledge down the ranks of trade- and craftsmen.89

  2. However, it is impossible that he should have been unaware of the exciting developments in contemporary design, the unparalleled creative freedom in the published works of Lock and later of Thomas Johnson and Thomas Chippendale which were produced within his own St Martin's Lane neighbourhood. The original, French, rococo idiom as such was, of course, familiar to him, having been popularised in the London art world by some of his own fellow St Martin's Lane Academicians, above all the French illustrator, designer and drawing master Hubert-Francois Gravelot and the Swiss-born chaser George Michael Moser.90

  3. It is indisputable that the Analysis was first thought of in the mid-1740s around the time that designs by Lock and Copland were originally published.91 And it is unlikely that contemporary craft designers in turn should have been unaware of Hogarth's apparently much discussed evolving theory.92 Hogarth's theory would have been of particular appeal to contemporary designers on two counts: firstly, as Joseph Burke stated long ago, it was "the first work in European literature to make formal values both the starting-point and basis of a whole aesthetic theory."93 Where form ("the line of beauty") – rather than elevating narrative – was centre-stage, conventional academic hierarchies of genre and medium were irrelevant. In addition, by relating his principles explicitly to "compositions of all kinds whatever; […]", natural and man-made, and by drawing his examples from every-day experience and objects at least as much as from "fine" art, Hogarth provided the "modern taste" in design and interior decoration with a theoretical and thereby implicitly ennobling basis.94

<top>

The Line of Beauty and Grace

  1. Hogarth's fundamental aesthetic component, the "bending" and "twisting" "serpentine" line undoubtedly evokes the essential rococo S-shape, occasionally inverted and usually plastic, presenting the viewer with an intimation of winding three-dimensional form. (fig. 5)

5 Henry Copland, title plate from A new Book of Ornaments, Very Necessary for the Instruction of those Unacquainted with the useful Part of Drawing, published by Robert Sayer, before 1754, etching, 31.2 x 20.5cm. Metropolitan Museum, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1934, accession no. 34.90.12. © Metropolitan Museum, New York. http://www.metmuseum.org

  1. The artist's detailed description of how to compose with the "serpentine line" plausibly corresponds to the design of a rococo object: his principle of utilising constant variations in distance between individual parts of the design perfectly describing rococo asymmetry – figures irreducible to mathematical formulae:

When you would compose an object of a great variety of parts, let several of those parts be distinguish'd by themselves, by their remarkable difference from the next adjoining, so as to make each of them, as it were, one well-shap'd quantity or part, […].95

  1. Not surprisingly, for Hogarth, the ambitious chronicler of human behaviour, the "serpentine" line is considered to be most relevant to the representation of the human body. However, he also establishes analogies between "ornamental" body parts, such as the "ossa innominata" (Analysis, plate II, fig. 60) and then current rococo ornament. Indeed, the latter is seen to be inspired by the natural forms of the human physiology, such as the "twisting" of muscles around bones.

How ornamental these bones appear, […] by adding a little foliage to them, may be seen in fig. [61, Analysis, plate II, bottom] – such shell-like [rocaille] winding forms, mixt with foliage, twisting about them, are made use of in all ornaments; a kind of composition calculated merely to please the eye.96

  1. This suggestion of the natural origins of rococo ornament, in something so fundamental and essentially universal as the construction of human bone and muscle, is noteworthy at a time when the style's growing band of critics, in France and also in Britain, alleged its bizarre and absurd, as well as unclassical character.97 When parts of the human body are naturally composed of "serpentine" lines, the construction of man-made objects in the same way must be legitimate and just.98

<top>

Infinite Variety

  1. The key characteristic of the "serpentine line" is its inherent capacity, in combination with other serpentine, and "waving" lines to "raise in the mind the ideas of all the variety of forms imaginable."99 As a concept, "variety" does not originate with Hogarth, but dates back to the Renaissance when "varietà" denoted formal abundance and was opposed to monotonous sameness. "Agreeable variety" is a very important quality in influential treatises by such writers on art as Charles Alphonse du Fresnoy and Gerard de Lairesse, the English translations of whose books popularised Continental art theory in England from the latter part of the seventeenth century.100 Particularly in the form of excerpts published in the myriad popular drawing books of the period, such ideas easily circulated among London's artists and craftsmen.101

  2. The ability to produce "variety" – in figures, poses, expressions and detail – was regarded as an index of the artist's imagination and ability to "invent". To the viewer it was above all a matter of pleasure, an "agreeable" engagement of eyes and mind, the desire for which Hogarth, drawing on then current Lockean philosophy, interpreted as a fundamental trait of human psychology.102

6 William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty, 1753, title page. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 265, http://www.e-rara.ch/doi/10.3931/e-rara-9946

  1. It is fair to say that Hogarth made "variety" his trademark (fig. 6) and that quality is emphatically implied in his much (self-)publicised production of work in most of the sought-after and respected contemporary art genres, from graphic satire and conversation to history painting and (grand manner) portraiture.103

  2. More importantly, "variety" describes the dominant formal characteristics in much of Hogarth's output, from the early graphic satires and conversation pieces to the serial paintings and prints of the 1730s-1750s. The abandonment of a unity of action, the explicit focus on the local, particular and divergent – "the customs, manners, fasheons [sic], characters and humours of the present age" – the profusion of characters, incidents, details and viewpoints in a single image, and across the serial canvasses and prints, all violate the classical notions of artistic composition that were to be re-iterated in the late 1750s by Joshua Reynolds.104 In these transgressions, scholars like Ogée and Meslay have seen a formal vocabulary appropriate to the fragmentation and diversity of contemporary society.105

7 Francis Vivares, engraver, one of a set (?) of undated cartouches in landscapes, etching, 1750s. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, museum number 13697:24. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  1. The "immediate illegibility" of Hogarth's polycentric scenes, described as his "boldest artistic originality", has a distinct parallel in the disjointed, multiple composition of design in the "modern taste".106 Like Hogarth's teeming scenes, rococo design, too, as Katie Scott's essay in this special issue suggests, invites beholders "to play an active part in the realisation of the work and devise their own course within it."107 As over Hogarth's "turning smokejack", the eye keeps moving "to and fro with great celerity" over an image like the plate from Lock's New Drawing Book, in which there is no centre or periphery but different points of interest which lead "the eye a wanton kind of chace".108 (fig. 2) Even a more conventionally composed and representational image like the large cartouche in a landscape etched by Vivares confounds the expectation of central object/focus and ornamental frame/detail. (fig.7) The eye, guided by the repoussoir devices of obelisk and ruin on left and right wants to be drawn to the background landscape, but is arrested in its progress at every point: in the foreground by an interesting huddle of treetrunk, broken column, tablet, capital, and foliage, while the cartouche itself presents the distractions of a vase, rocaille and a waterfall, and vibrant contrapuntal foliage and swirls. Displaying "irregularity" and "intricacy", asymmetry and "oddness in number", images like the Vivares cartouche embody the linked formal characteristics that Hogarth ascribed to "variety".109

  2. The concept of "infinite variety" appears with significant frequency in patternbook texts, too – in subscription proposals, prefaces and notes on plates – by mid-eighteenth-century authors like Thomas Chippendale and Ince and Mayhew. Chippendale was the first craftsman-designer in Britain explicitly (i.e. in writing) to express his ambitions for social and professional recognition. His Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director contains such apparently gratuitous tropes as Latin tags, references to architectural discourse and to the academic distinction between the Roman and Venetian "schools".110 What made his designs worthy of being disseminated was, as Chippendale emphasized, their qualities of variety and extensive usefulness. "Variety" is expressed first of all in the style plurality signalled in the subtitle – i.e. in the book's inclusion of designs representing the popular trio of contemporary connected styles: "the modern", the "Chinese" and the "Gothic" tastes.111 Secondly, the concept of "variety" relates to the comprehensiveness of his provision of "Household Furniture", listed in the title page. It far exceeded the mere carvers' pieces previously offered by Lock or Copland and gave his clients a convenient, one-stop location for every item of furniture that they could possibly want. More importantly, however, Chippendale emphasized the kind of variety that springs from a richly fertile imagination – the prerequisite of the internationally competitive craftsman-artist, who was not obliged to draw on stock models or slavishly copy the inventions of others.

  3. Whereas Lock had implied an inventiveness and a mastery of disegno that allowed him to claim artistic status by pictorial means, Chippendale's ambition was more explicit, stating that the published designs were but a faint translation, by the hand and pencil, of his "inexhaustible fancy".112 Moreover, he suggested that the result on the page was itself capable of providing infinite possibilities of combination and re-adjustment and endowing the patron himself, or his workman, with creative inspiration: "[The designs] are so contrived, that if no one drawing should singly answer the Gentleman's taste, there will yet be found a variety of hints sufficient to construct a new one."113

  4. "A variety of hints" – in Chippendale's Director and elsewhere – describes the characteristic way in which rococo design is presented on the plate: not only elaborate in individual forms, but typically showing more than one design and often giving numerous details or alternative versions on the same page. Mid-century printed designs particularly brimful of ornament have sometimes been described not only as impossible to execute but also as tastelessly over-elaborate.114 The New Book of Ornaments, for Glasses, Tables, Chairs, Sconces &c. attributed to Pierre Edmé Babel is a good example, including designs such as that in plate 3 that are positively barnacled with ornament.115 (fig. 8)