Choice 23: Hogarth’s First Oil Sketch for The Beggar’s Opera
“This is the first of six oils by Hogarth of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, Act III, Scene IX with Lucy Lockit, her father the Warden of Newgate, Macheath the highwayman, Polly Peachum, and her father. The scene shows the two girls begging their fathers to save their lover from hanging. Walpole wrote a note on the back of the picture that he copied in the Description of Strawberry Hill: “Sketch of The Beggar’s Opera as first performed: Macheath, in red, by Walker. Polly kneeling, in white, by Miss Fenton, afterwards Duchess of Bolton; Lucy in green, her face turned away, by Mrs. Eggleton; Peachum, in black, by Hippisley; Lockit, by Hall. Amongst the audience, on the left hand, Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby, a tall gentleman with a long lean face; on the right Sir Robert Fagge, profile, a fat man with short grey hair, much known at Newmarket. Painted by Hogarth. H.W.” Walpole added in his copy of the ’84 Description, “Bought at the sale of John Rich, well-known harlequin, and master of the theatres in Lincoln’s-inn-fields and Covent-garden, for whom the picture was painted.” He also added in his copy of the ’74 Description, “with prices of such pieces as I can recollect” that he paid 5 guineas for the picture. When it was sold in the Lowther Castle Sale in 1947 Annie Burr bought it for me through Messrs Spink and it now hangs in the long hall at Farmington beside a black and white chalk drawing of Sir John Perrott, an Elizabethan Deputy of Ireland, that Walpole hung next to it in the Great North Bedchamber at Strawberry Hill.”
“Walpole believed he had the largest collection of Hogarth’s prints in existence, 365 in number. It may have been the largest when he made the claim, but after the painter’s death Walpole wrote Cole that George Steevens ‘ransacked’ Mrs. Hogarth’s collection of prints. Steeven’s collection is now at Farmington. It has 469 prints with 236 additional copies of Hogarth’s prints by Bickham, Ireland and Paul Sandby. Steevens pasted the prints into three elephant folios. He discriminated the states of the early tradesman’s cards and exhibition announcements and included lists of the prints priced by Hogarth and his widow. Steevens bequeathed his collection to William Windham of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, where it remained until Wyndham Ketton-Cremer’s uncle sold it at Sotheby’s in 1919 to Dyson Perrins whose estate resold it at Sotheby’s in 1959. I bought it in memory of Annie Burr and so it has joined the collections of Hogarth at Farmington formed by Queen Charlotte and Lord Kinnaird. According to Ronald Paulson, we are now second only to the British Museum’s collection, which includes a large proportion of the prints from Strawberry Hill. Thirteen of them are at Farmington. They include drawings of Dr. Misaubin and Dr. Richard Mead, prints of ‘the Black Girl in Bed,’ and ‘Humours of Oxford,’ which turned up in Lady Ossory’s copy of Walpole’s Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose. We also have copperplates for ‘The Sleeping Congregation,’ and Hogarth’s portrait of himself painting the Comic Muse. His plates are rare because so many of them were melted down for bullets in the dawn of the New Dark Ages.”
Lewis, Wilmarth S. Rescuing Horace Walpole. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978.
To see the full chapter from Rescuing Horace Walpole called “Choice 23: Hogarth’s First Oil Sketch for The Beggar’s Opera” download or expand the link here:
N.B. The collection of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British satires in the LWL’s collection have been cataloged in Orbis, Yale’s online library catalog, and through the Quicksearch Books+ interface, and digital images can be found in the Digital Collection.