A Closer Look: Discovering the story of William Hogarth’s Before and After by Zoe Dostal

During the Print Room Open House ‘Storylines’, from 25-29 January, postgraduate Print Room Assistants are presenting artworks that explore the variety of methods artists use to tell a story. When preparing my own presentation for William Hogarth’s engravings Before and After, I additionally wanted to consider the ‘story’ of the physical object itself. Kate Edmondson, Conservator of Works on Paper for the Courtauld Gallery, guided my exploration of the objects’ histories from the fabrication of the paper to the application of the ink, through the hands of collectors and conservators to storage and display at The Courtauld.

Hogarth Before

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), Before (1736), etching and engraving

Hogarth After

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), After (1736), etching and engraving

Before and After are generally in very good condition, yet small irregularities or imperfections provide clues to the making of the prints. ‘Raking light’ is one of the conservator’s simplest and most useful tools. Simply shining light across the paper at a low angle reveals the texture of the paper and medium, details that are generally imperceptible to the naked eye. Examining Before in raking light reveals a raised vertical line extending from the top edge of the paper towards the center of the image. My first instinct was to assume that this was a tear or accidental fold. But Kate determined that because the ink is neither interrupted nor distorted, as it would be by a tear or fold, this mark is actually a natural crease resulting from the paper making process.

Vertical crease

Detail of vertical crease in normal reflected light

Vertical crease 2

Detail of raised vertical crease in normal raking light

A more noticeable blemish on Before is located just above the dog’s head, on the skirt of the female figure. This small, round, bare patch at first appears to be the result of damage. However, examining the mark under the stereomicroscope, Kate deduced that this imperfection occurred during the printing process. The outline of ink that delineates the bare spot tells the story of how the raised surface of an accretion, or an unknown foreign body, disrupted the application of the inked design and caused the ink to pool. (Imagine rainwater pooling around the bottom of a hill, creating a ring of water around the base.) It was likely that the accretion was sitting on the surface of the paper as it was pressed to the printing plate. Today the accretion is no longer there, leaving the small, un-inked circular patch.

Skirt

Close up detail of missing media lower centre of skirt

Furthermore, raking light reveals that After was previously folded in half across the middle. Kate explained that such a strong fold such as this is difficult to completely remove because paper retains an irrevocable ‘memory’ of such deformations. But one way to try and reduce its visual distraction is to apply a repair on the verso along the fold to “ease” out the noticeable ridge. In this case a Japanese paper (a strong, lightweight, translucent paper) was applied with conservation grade adhesive across the whole of the verso. The Japanese paper lining tells the most recent story of the prints, when they became part of The Courtauld’s collection and were prepared for display. The conservation efforts minimize the visibility of the imperfections of the print for the viewer, but are also completely reversible, allowing for the story of the object to continue evolving in the future.

After in normal

After in normal reflected light

After in raking

After in raking light revealing horizontal fold across the middle

To discover these stories and more of Hogarth’s Before and After, all are welcome to stop by the Print Room Open House on Wednesday 27 January from 1:30-5pm.

Print openings

Don’t Miss the Next Open House Week! (January 25-29, 2016)

The fourth installment of our Prints and Drawings Open House, entitled Storylines, begins on Monday, January 25th!

For one week only, the Courtauld Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistants will be presenting a selection of some of the most striking drawings and prints from the Gallery’s rich collection of works on paper. The aim of this Open House is to highlight the role of prints and drawings as storytellers and explore the different ways in which biblical, literary and mythological tales, as well as lived historical events, are narrated in graphic media from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.

Between 1.30pm and 5pm every day this week our doors will be open without any appointment necessary, and each work will be on display for one day only.  Our friendly Print Room Assistants will introduce their selected prints and drawings to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions. The students and gallery visitors are warmly invited to drop by to see these rarely displayed works, learn more about the devices which artists use to tell stories visually, and engage in a lively discussion which these works will undoubtedly facilitate.

This Monday (January 25th), we will be starting the Open House with Michelangelo’s energetic pen and ink depiction of the central episode in the Passion, which shows Christ brought as a prisoner before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. On Tuesday (January 26th), the Ovidian tale of Atalanta, a virgin huntress who refused to marry any of her suitors unless they could best her in a footrace, will be explored in Guercino’s large-scale Race of Atalanta. This will be followed by a pair of satirical prints, Before and After, by William Hogarth on Wednesday 27th and by Honoré Daumier’s theatrical interpretation of Molière’s comedy The Hypochondriac (Thursday 28th). The week will conclude with Henry Moore’s poignant Shelter Drawing, produced during the Second World War.

 

The following works will be the focus of each day’s session:

 

Monday (25 January): presented by Tatiana Bissolati

Open week blog Bissolati

Michelangelo (1475-1564), Christ before Pilate (c. 1516), pen and ink and red chalk on paper, D.1978.PG.422

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday (26 January): presented by Alexander J. Noelle

Guercino

Guercino (1591 – 1666), Race of Atalanta (c. 1625), pen and ink, black chalk on paper and canvas, D.1953.WF.4593

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday (27 January): presented by Zoe Dostal

Hogarth Before

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), Before (1736), etching and engraving, G.1990.WL.2005

Hogarth After

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), After (1736), etching and engraving, G.1990.WL.2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday (28 January): presented by Camilla Pietrabissa

Honore

Honoré Victorin Daumier (1808-1879), Le Malade imaginaire (The Hypochondriac) (c. 1850), black chalks, black ink wash, watercolour and touches of bodycolour with pen and point of the brush in brown and black-grey ink on laid paper, D.1934.SC.113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday (29 January): presented by Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings

Henry

Henry Spencer Moore (1898 – 1986), Shelter Drawing (1942), charcoal and watercolour on paper, D.1982.LB.15