William Hogarth, Cruelty in Perfection

Cruelty in Perfection, 1750/1

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

RA Collection: Art

One of two woodcut copies of the third and fourth plates of William Hogarth's Four Stages of Cruelty, a set of prints he made with the intention of drawing attention to animal cruelty and, like the contemporaneous Beer Street and Gin Lane, in the hope of reaching the audience for popular prints.

Although this print is a copy of Hogarth's own engraving (17/3558) it was in fact published (by Hogarth) a month before that print. Wishing to reach the largest possible audience, Hogarth employed a wood engraver, 'J. Bell' to make versions in wood, which could be sold in greater quantities, at a lower price, and which in their bold outlines were in keeping with the 'popular prints' more generally purchased by Hogarth's target audience. Ironically, the cost of this project proved too expensive, and as a result Bell did not engrave all four plates. Nonetheless, the way in which Hogarth sold the prints demonstrates how aware he was of the audience for his work and the possibilities of expanding that audience. In addition to the woodcuts, the engravings (which themselves 'have the brutal simplicity of woodcuts' in Paulson's words), were printed on two qualities of paper, priced differently.

All four plates centre around the figure of 'Tom Nero' and the way that his increasingly barbaric mistreatment of animals leads to his own downfall after he is apprehended for murder. Here Nero, having brutalised animals in the first two plates, is apprehended in a country churchyard after murdering his pregnant mistress. On the floor beside him lay a pistol and stolen watches, evidence that he has turned to theft to make his living.

Object details

Cruelty in Perfection
William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)
William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)
Object type

451 mm x 380 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
This image is from a book

Hogarth's prints. Vol. I. - [s.l.]: [n.d.]

Click here to view the book

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