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Creator:
William Hogarth, 1697–1764, British
Title:

The Beggar's Opera

Former Title(s):

The Beggar's Opera, III, xi

Scene from the Beggar's Opera

Date:
1729
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Support (PTG): 23 1/4 x 30 inches (59.1 x 76.2 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

signed and dated 1729

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.349
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
boxes (containers) | correctional institution | crest | fathers | jail | keys | literary theme | prison | shield | stage
Access:
On view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5033
Export:
XML

Intended as a satirical riposte to Italian opera, John Gay’s musical play The Beggar’s Opera premiered at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on January 29, 1728. Set in the criminal underworld of contemporary London, with highwaymen and prostitutes taking the place of the classical deities and heroes of the Italian opera, and with folk ballads and popular songs in place of florid arias, The Beggar’s Opera was wildly popular with London audiences. For the young William Hogarth, the subject of the play provided his first major success as a painter. He shows the climax in which the highwayman Macheath faces execution as his two wives, Lucy Lockit and Polly Peachum, plead for his life with their fathers, a jailer and a professional informer. Above the stage a banner bears the Latin motto “Veluti in speculum” (as in a mirror), suggesting that the stage action reflects real life.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016



A satirical play with songs, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera opened at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln's Inn Fields, on January 29, 1728, and took London by storm. In the play, highwaymen and robbers have the manners of gentlemen, and members of supposedly respectable professions behave like scoundrels. Here Hogarth represents the main character, Macheath, a notorious highwayman, who has been arrested, brought in irons to Newgate Prison, and condemned to death. Each of the young women who is besotted with him, Lucy Lockit (left) and Polly Peachum (right), begs her father-respectively, a jailer (with the keys) and a professional police informer-to spare Macheath. During the first run of the play, the actress Mrs. Fenton (1710-1760), who played Polly, became mistress to a senior courtier, Charles Powlett, 3rd Duke of Bolton (1685-1754). The duke is shown on the far right, sitting with other VIPs in one of the boxes on the edge of the stage-beneath a large, lascivious satyr.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
John Gay’s ballad opera, with music arranged by Johann Pepusch, was first produced by John Rich at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in January 1728. “The Beggar’s Opera” was an unprecedented success, running for sixty-two performances in its first season and inspiring the pun that it had made Rich gay, and Gay rich. With its English ballad interludes and its setting in London's criminal underworld, the play challenged the vogue for Italian opera that Hogarth had satirized in his earliest engravings.

Hogarth’s painting depicts the climax of the play, set in Newgate Prison. Macheath, a gentlemanly highwayman bigamist, stands in chains at center stage. His two wives, Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit, make appeals to their fathers, thieftaker and jailer, respectively, to perjure themselves in support of Macheath. Hogarth painted five versions of the scene; this is the last and marks the culmination of his rapid development as a painter.

The painting is set in an ambiguous space, part prison and part stage, which situates the interplay of reality and fiction suggested in the Latin motto that appears on the banner over the stage: “Veluti in speculum” (as in a mirror). The figures seated in boxes at the sides of the stage, occupying what were considered to be the best seats in the house, are recognizable portraits. Of particular note are John Gay, the shadowy figure at the foot of the staircase, and John Rich, standing immediately in front of Gay. In the foreground, Lavinia Fenton, the actress playing Polly Peachum, meets the gaze of the enthralled Lord Bolton; at the end of the season he would install her as his mistress, and they would remain together until his death in 1754.

“The Beggar's Opera” was Hogarth’s first major success as a painter and set the stage thematically and compositionally for the modern moral subjects he would begin to produce in the following decade.

Eleanor Hughes

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy: a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 247, no. 14, pl. 14, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)



John Gay's play The Beggar's Opera, a satire with songs, premiered at John Rich's Theatre Royal, Lincoln's Inn Fields, on January 29, 1728, and took London by storm. It paints a world turned topsy-turvy, in which highwaymen and robbers, the central, sympathetic characters, conduct themselves in gentlemanly fashion, whereas members of ostensibly respectable professions act like scoundrels. Depicting Act III, scene 11, Hogarth's painting shows the play's climax. The central character Macheath, a notorious highwayman, has been arrested and brought to the Hall Ward at Newgate Prison, from which he will go to his execution. While he stands shackled at hands and feet, his two young and beautiful lovers, Lucy Lockit (left) and Polly Peachum (right), appeal to their fathers-respectively a jailer and a professional informer-for his freedom.

In the three or four years following the opening of The Beggar's Opera, Hogarth painted no fewer than ?ve versions of this subject. Recently it has been shown that the present version, which belonged to John Rich, was the fourth.1 The ?rst three paintings seem to depend on a chalk sketch (Royal Collection) made by Hogarth at an actual performance: the viewpoint is closely cropped around the ?ve actors in the middle ground, and members of the audience are depicted as seated on the stage at the sides of the players and behind. The Center's painting signi?cantly enlarges the scene by reducing the scale of both the central ?gures and audience and by placing them in a more grandiose setting that looks like a real prison instead of a stage set.

In this and the later versions Hogarth includes two sculpted satyrs that hold up the stage's curtain at the painting's edges; differing only slightly from the actual sculptures on the proscenium arch in Rich's theater, these elements act as visual reminders of the play's ?rst staging. As another allusion to the original staging, he shows identi?able members of the audience who interact with the players; most notably, in the corner seat of the right-hand audience box sits the Duke of Bolton. During the initial run of The Beggar's Opera, Bolton became scandalously enamored of Lavinia Fenton, the actress playing Polly, and later publicly kept her as his mistress. Hogarth refers to this notorious affair by showing Polly looking past her father as she sings and locking gazes with the Duke. By describing the picture with the epigram Veluti in speculum (As in a Mirror), inscribed in the banderole at the top of the painting, he invites the viewer to consider the different types of truth the work represents: it holds a mirror up to Gay's play and its relevance to contemporary life; to a particular performance of that play; and even to a compromising relationship between an actress and a prominent member of the audience.

Contemporaries did indeed recognize the play as a thinly veiled lampoon of London society's manners and morals and, more pointedly, as an attack on the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and his government's policies. Although Walpole and members of his party appeared to enjoy themselves at The Beggar's Opera, his government actively prevented any performance of its sequel, Polly, later that same year. Whatever the political sympathies of Hogarth, it is clear that his painting ofa critical scene from The Beggar's Opera was part of a larger dialogue about the play and its implications.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 40-41, no. 8, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Enlightened Princesses - Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World (Historic Royal Palaces, 2017-06-22 - 2017-11-12)

Enlightened Princesses - Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World (Yale Center for British Art, 2017-02-02 - 2017-04-30)

The Art of Music (San Diego Museum of Art, 2015-09-26 - 2016-02-07)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27)

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)

Art and Music in Britain: Four Encounters, 1730-1900 (Yale Center for British Art, 2006-10-05 - 2006-12-31)

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2002-02-01 - 2002-05-05)

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-09-27 - 2001-12-30)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05)

William Hogarth - A Selection of Painting from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (National Gallery of Art, 1971-02-12 - 1971-05-30)

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20)

A Great Collection of British Pictures in Virginia, The Times (London), Issue No. 55689, May 1, 1963, p. 5, Available Online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm: Film An T482 (SML)

A handbook to the gallery of British paintings in the Art Treasures Exhibition, being a reprint of critical notices originally published in The Manchester Guardian. , Bradbury and Evans, London, 1857, p. 31, N5056 M6 H3 1857 (YCBA RARE BOOKS) Also available at SML Fiche B1244 Fiche N.4.2.220 and online at books.google.com

Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), issue no. 59989, Thursday, April 28, 1977, p. 9, Available Online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm : Film An T842 (SML)

Frederick Antal, Hogarth and his place in European art., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1962, pp. 26, 59, 61.., NJ18 H67 A63 (YCBA)

Amal Asfour, Hogarth's Post-Newtonian Universe, Journal of the History of Ideas, 1999, pp. 695-96, fig. 30, Available online Available online through JStor

Timothy J. Barringer, Art & music in Britain, four encounters, 1730-1900 (exhibition and label text) , New Haven, 2006, [p. 1], V 1699:1 (YCBA)

Timothy J. Barringer, Art & music in Britain, four encounters, 1730-1900 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2006, pp. 6-7, 9, 10-11, V 1699 (YCBA)

John Baskett, Painting in England: 1700-1850: the Collection of English paintings formed by Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon : on Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, until August 18th, , Connoisseur, Vol. 153, London, June 1963, pp. 101-02, N1 C75 + (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 247, no. 14, pl. 14, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Ronald Brymer Beckett, Hogarth's Early Painting II, Burlington Magazine, vol. 90, 1948, p. 167, Available online JSTOR

Ronald Brymer Beckett, Hogarth's Early Painting II, Burlington Magazine, vol. 90, 1948, p. 167, N1 +B87 90 (YCBA)

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, p. 233, fig. 2, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +]

The British Council, British painting in the eighteenth century : an exhibition under the gracious patronage of Her Majesty the Queen. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Toronto, the Toledo Museum of Art, 1957-1958 ..., , [London, 1957, pp. 17, 20, 41, No. 28, ND466 A5 (YCBA)

Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857., Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 77, no. 17, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.2.216 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 118-119, N590.2 A83 (YCBA)

Austin Dobson, William Hogarth, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, London, 1891, pp. 28, 300, 328, NJ18 H67 D65 (YCBA)

Elizabeth Einberg, The age of Hogarth, British painters born 1675-1709 , vol. 2, Tate Gallery, London, 1988, pp. 74-81, 145, fig. 30, ND466 T38 1988 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth : A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven, London, 2016, pp. 37-38, cat. 13C, NJ18 H67 +E36 2016 Oversize (YCBA)

Boris Ford, The Cambridge cultural history of Britain, Cambridge University Press, London; New York, 1992, vol. 5, pp. 110-11, NX543 C36 1992 (YCBA)

Lisa A. Freeman, Character's theater, genre and identity on the eighteenth-century English stage , University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 40, fig. 4, PS708 C47 F74X 2002 (SML)

Vic Gatrell, The first bohemians, life and art in London's golden age , Allen Lane, London, 2013, pp. 129, 134-35, 248-49, fig. 57, NX544.L6 G37 2013 (YCBA)

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 33, ND466 G67 (YCBA)

Mark Hallett, Hogarth, Phaidon, London, 2000, pp. 44-54, 60, fig. 25, NJ18 H67 H25 2000 (YCBA)

Luke Herrmann, The Paul Mellon Collection at Burlington House, Connoisseur, v. 157, no. 634, December 1964, p. 214, N1 C75 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) Another copy available in YCBA Vertical File Collection: v 2334

Samuel Ireland, Graphic illustrations of Hogarth, from pictures, drawings, and scarce prints in the possession of Samuel Ireland, author of this work; ... , R. Fauldner and J. Egerton, London, 1794, p. 59 (vol. 1), Available Online (ORBIS)

Jerrold's guide to the exhibition: how to see the Art Treasures Exhibition : a guide, systematically arranged, to enable visitors to take a view, at once rapid and complete, of the Art Treasures Palace, A. Ireland and Co., Manchester : UK, p. 24, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.224 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

E. D. H. Johnson, Paintings of the British social scene, from Hogarth to Sickert , Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1986, pp. 23, 24, 4,, ND1452 G7 J64 (YCBA)

Regina Karl, Screens, genealogies of the excessive screen, a Mellon Sawyer seminar at Yale, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, p. 6, V 2776 (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 40-41, no. 8, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Joanna Marschner, Enlightened Princesses : Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte, and the Shaping of the Modern World, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn, 2017, p. 168, fig. 7.05, NX543 +.E55 2017 Oversize (YCBA)

National Gallery of Art, Painting in Georgian England from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 12, no. 31, ND488 P25 (YCBA)

John Nichols, The genuine works of William Hogarth, illustrated with biographical anecdotes, a chronological catalogue, and commentary , Longman, London, 1808-1817, v. 3, p. 99, 1977 +418 (BRBL) Also available on line in Google Books

Toni-Lynn O'Shaughessy, A Single Capacity in the Beggar's Opera, Eighteenth Century Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2, Winter 1987-1988, p. 212-227, Available online Available online through JStor

A. P. (Adopf Paul) Oppe, The drawings of William Hogarth, Phaidon, London, 1948, pp. 32-33, pl. 20, NJ18 H67 O66 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, pp. 8 (v. 1)..., no. 22, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B214 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 112 (v. 1),, no. 213, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

William Park, The idea of Rococo, University of Delaware Press, Newark, 1992, p. 94, NX452.5 R6 P37X 1992 OVERSIZE (HAAS)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Ronald Paulson, Hogarth : His Life, Art, and Times, , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1971, pp. 180-92..., pl. 64 (v.1), NJ18 H67+ P39 Oversize (YCBA)

John Rich, The Stage's Glory, John Rich, 1692-1761 , University of Delaware Press, 2011, pp. 253-54, 258, 261-65, fig. 16.4, PN2598.R4575 S73 2011 + Oversize (YCBA)

Cynthia Roman, Hogarth's legacy, XIX, The Lewis Walpole Library, Newaven, 2016, pp. 52-53, 92, 97, 99-102,, fig. 49, NJ18.H67 A12 2016 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Lindsay Rothwell, Paul Mellon's legacy, an American's passion for British art : Sackler Wing of Galleries, 20 October 2007 - 27 January 2008 : an introduction to the exhibition for teachers and students. , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 2007, pp. 12-13, 25, no. 14, V 2038 (YCBA)

Philip Sassoon, Loan exhibition of English conversation pieces in aid of the Royal Northern Hospital ... March 4th to 30th (inclusive) 1930, Royal Northern Hospital, [s.l., 1930, no. 136, ND1304 S37 1930 (HAAS)

Robin Simon, Hogarth, France and British Art : The Rise of the Arts in 18th-Century Britain, , Hogarth Arts, London, 2007, pp. 257-267, NJ18 H67 +S55 2007 Oversize (YCBA)

Sacheverell Sitwell, Narrative pictures, a survey of English genre and its painters , B.T. Batsford, London, 1937, pp. 3, 28, ND466 S5 (YCBA)

Tate Britain, Tate Collection, a scene from The beggar's opera VI by William Hogarth , 2011, V 2377 (YCBA) Also available at http://www.tate.org.uk/

Basil Taylor, The Intimate English Portrait, Apollo, v. 77, no. 14, April, 1963, pp. 270-71, pl. 1, N1 A54 + (YCBA) Another Copy also available in Vertical File : V 1168

The Age of Rococo, art and culture of the eighteenth century. 4th exhibition under the patronage of the Council of Europe. 15th June-15th September 1958, the Residenz, Munich. [Translation by Margaret D. Senft-Howie and Brian Sewell , H. Rinn, Munich, 1958, Cat. no. 96, J583 958Mg (LSF)

The Art Treasures Exhibition : the English school, Manchester Guardian, no. 3, Manchester : UK, May 08 1957, Available online : ProQuest Historical Newspapers

The companion to a walk through the Art Treasures Exhibition of Paintings and Engravings at Old Trafford Palace, A. Ireland and Co., Manchester : UK, p. 38, no. 17, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.233 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

The Grosvenor Exhibition ( Second Notice ), Athenaeum, no. 3144, January 28, 1888, p. 121, Available Online: British Perriodcals II Also Available: A88 At421 + OVERSIZE (SML)

The Grosvenor Gallery, Winter Exhibition ( First Notice ) , Athenaeum, no. 3196, January 26, 1889, p. 123, Available Online: British Periodicals II Also Available: A88 At421 + OVERSZE (SML)

The Private Collections of England, No. XXXVII, Hornby Castle, Bedale, Marske, Richmond , Athenaeum, no. 2655, September 14, 1878, pp. 343-44, Avaialble Online: British Periodicals II Also Available : A88 At421+ OVERSIZE (SML)

Jennifer S. Uglow, Hogarth, a life and a world , Faber and Faber, London, 1997, pp. 135-40..., pl. 33, NJ18 H67 U35 1997 (YCBA)

William Vaughan, British painting, the Golden Age from Hogarth to Turner , Thames and Hudson, London, 1999, p. 27, no. 14, ND466 V28 1999 (YCBA)

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon and collection., Vogue, vol.141,no. 9, May 1963, pp. 130, 131, V 2338 Original journal aricle also available TT500 V7 HAAS

Malcolm Warner, Great British paintings from American collections, Holbein to Hockney , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, pp. 66-7, no. 7, ND464 W27 2001 (YCBA)

Mary Webster, Johan Zoffany, 1733-1810, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2011, pp. 177, 178,200, fig. 155, NJ18 Z68 W43 2011 + (YCBA)

Scott Wilcox, Among the whores and thieves : William Hogarth and The beggar's opera, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1997, pp. 16-24, 28-29, 76, 92, no. 11, fig. 5, NJ18 H67 A15 B4 1997 (YCBA)

William Hogarth : A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., , National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., 1971, pp. 17, 38, no. 4, NJ18 H67 U53 (YCBA)

John Wilmerding, In honor of Paul Mellon, collector and benefactor, Essays , National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC & Hanover, NH, 1986, pp. 363-379, N7442.2 M455 1986 (YCBA)

Windows on that world, essays on British art presented to Brian Allen , The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, 2012, pp. 22-23, fig. 11, N6766 .W56 2012 (YCBA)

Yale Center for British Art, Selected paintings, drawings & books, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1977, p. 8, N590.2 A82 (YCBA)

Yale Center for British Art, Selected paintings, drawings & books, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1977, p. 8, 715 Y18 977b (YCBA)

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965. , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, pp. 30-1 (v. 1),, no. 108, pl. 32, ND466 Y35 (YCBA)


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