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This article is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.Pictures from a Library 10: William Hogarth and Trump
The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth, engraved by Thomas Cook, 1801, R183036.4. Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, University of Manchester Libraries.
In his book Stuff, Daniel Miller explores how the 'concept of the person, the sense of the self, the experience of being an individual, are radically different at different times and in different places'. As a distinguished Anthropologist, with a profound interest in material culture, he is especially keen to examine the role that 'things' play in this process of self-creation and argues that people use objects not to 'represent' themselves 'but to actually constitute who they are'. Take, for example, this print of one of William Hogarth's best known oil paintings, entitled The Painter and his Pug.
Through this self-portrait, the genre best suited to 'rewriting one's autobiography, inscribed in things' (Marcoux), Hogarth 'struts his stuff' to present himself as an artist, gentleman and intellectual. Presenting the portrait as a painting within a painting, Hogarth captures his own likeness in an oval frame. This is supported by a pile of books, which include the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift; he seeks to display that he is the equal of these denizens of the literary canon. With flair and flamboyance Hogarth performs his own feats of artistic virtuosity through his skill in picturing, and making present, the very things, in the form of his palette and engraving tools, which give him agency as an artist.
Prominently placed in the foreground of the composition is also a portrait of Trump, one of Hogarth's celebrated pugs. Presented from life, the portrayal of Trump pays tribute to Hogarth's abilities to put into practice his theory that art should arise from the close observation of nature. Moreover, Trump's portrait within his master's self-portrait compels the viewer to recognise an 'almost prosthetic quality' (Miller) in the way the dog functions within this image. Embodied and objectified, Trump is pictured as part of his master's identity and central to his sense of self-definition. As a portrait of the artist as a young dog, the pug-like similarities of their physical features wittily testify to the probable pugnaciousness of Hogarth's character and (at least in the North of England) the pungent possibility of the satirist's ability to break wind ferociously.
This article is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.