Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Rococo and the Eighteenth Century

Why is Time Smoking a Picture?

The work of William Hogarth (1697–1764) is a good example of rococo’s more satirical side. The English Hogarth, a painter and engraver, ran in literary circles that included his friend Henry Fielding. His work frequently contains clear moral messages and biting social commentary. For example, his series of paintings, titled Marriage a la Mode (1743–1745), satirizes arranged marriages and cautions against vanity, betrayal, and vices such as drinking and gambling.

Hogarth’s etching, Time Smoking a Picture, also communicates a very specific message from the artist. At the center is an aging personification of Time, complete with wings and a scythe, Time’s attributes. He sits glumly in front of a large framed canvas, shoulders hunched, blowing smoke directly on to the painting with a long, thin pipe. The nude Time sits upon a piece of broken sculpture, and his large scythe has fallen forward, slicing a hole in the painting. Next to him is a large jar of varnish. An inscription in Greek is written across the painting’s frame. It reads, “Time is not a clever craftsman, for he makes everything more obscure.” In printed text just below the figure of Time, another message reads, “As Statues moulder into Worth.” And finally, a caption at the very bottom of the print says, “To Nature and your Self Appeal/ Nor learn of others what to feel.” Hogarth is commenting on a common eighteenth-century practice of using varnish and smoke to make contemporary works of art look older, and therefore more expensive, as older works of art were deemed more valuable than new ones. Time Smoking a Picture powerfully communicates Hogarth’s criticism of the fact that art dealers were willing to destroy works of art to make a profit.


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