Illustrated companion

This picture was painted after Hogarth's second visit to France in 1748, when he was arrested in Calais as a suspected English spy. He was evidently extremely annoyed by the episode and the picture is a pungent anti-French satire. The cloth in which the beef is being carried bears a label inscribed 'For Madm. Grandsire at Calais'. Grandsire was the name of the landlord of the Lion d'Argent, the inn at Calais favoured by English travellers and where Hogarth was held in custody after his arrest.

In the background, on the left, Hogarth himself appears holding the sketchbook which was presumably the cause of his arrest. The tip of the arresting soldier's pike can be seen, as well as the hand on Hogarth's shoulder. Hogarth indeed paints a telling contrast of the starving French, who have only thin gruel to eat, with the huge side of beef, symbol of the well-fed Englishman. Only one of the Frenchmen, the fat monk, clearly is not starving and he is ogling the beef as it passes, perhaps in anticipation of eating it later at the inn. Here Hogarth is indulging anti-Catholic feeling and perhaps commenting on the pre-revolutionary system in France under which the nobility and the Church paid very little tax. Hogarth's anti-Catholic and anti-French sentiments also account for the miserable figure of the Scottish Highlander, a remnant of Bonnie Prince Charlie's defeated army, with only bread and a raw onion to eat. Hogarth's contempt for what he probably regarded as the over-demonstrative and superstitious religious behaviour of the French, is shown by the scene, visible through the gate, of people kneeling in the middle of the street as a religious procession passes. In the left hand corner are three fishwives who appear to be praying to a large fish of the ray family which they are holding up towards the spectator. A close look reveals that Hogarth has painted its mouth and gill opening so as to produce a very human looking face, with a striking resemblance to those of the fishwives.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.25