At tomorrow’s installment of the New York Comics & Picture-Story Symposium, Abigail Zitin of Rutgers will talk about William Hogarth in a presentation titled “Narrative Art and Visual Pleasure”. Hogarth’s narrative painting cycles mark him as a proto-cartoonist, with two popular sets of 6 paintings each popularized through more affordable print cycles in their days. The original, A Harlot’s Progress cycle from 1731, was followed up in 1733 by The Rake’s Progress cycle. (The original paintings of the latter are at the Soane Museum in London; the Harlot paintings were lost to a fire and only survive in the print format.)
After seeing the original pieces in an exhibit in Chicago, composer Igor Stravinsky adapted the story into 1951’s Rake’s Progress opera a neo-classical satire and a modern classic. The 1975 Glyndebourne Opera production by English artist David Hockney is a classic in its own right too… As a demonstration of how intrinsically linked this production has become to the opera, this video from Glyndebourne is as much about the production’s creation by Hockney and director John Cox as it is about the music and opera itself:
More recently, the earlier The Harlot’s Progress was adapted into an opera in six scenes (mirroring the original cycle of six paintings) by 34-year old English composer Iain Bell, premiering just last year at Theater an der Wien in Vienna with German soprano Diana Damrau creating the title role. Unlike Stravinsky’s more comical take, Bell apparently had an unremittingly bleak vision for his Hogarth opera, but it seems to have been pretty well received…
Is it any wonder an artist who pioneered narrative paintings would be an inspiration to modern composers? Only a shame Hogarth didn’t create more cycles to be adapted!