Catalogue entry

T00808 The Doctor's Visit c.1725

Oil on canvas 747×625 (29 15/16×24 5/16)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1965
PROVENANCE ...; possibly this or another version sold by John Willett Willett, Cox 31 May 1813 (11 as ‘Heemskerk: Interior, with a Man dying, surrounded by his Friends’); ...; Lucius O'Callaghan, sold Christie's 12 October 1956 (193 as ‘Hogarth: The Death Bed’) bt O'Roche; ...; Phillips (untraced sale) bt Claudio Corvaya, sold by him Christie's 19 November 1965 (90) bt Oscar and Peter Johnson Ltd, from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery 1971 (12 as Hogarth, repr.); Pittura inglese 1660–1840, Milan 1975 (25 as by Hogarth, repr.)
LITERATURE L. Gowing, ‘Hogarth Revisited’, University of Leeds Review, XIII, October 1970, pp.186–98, pl.4 (B); Paulson 1971, I, p.525 n.3

This representation of a sick-bed scene, with the apparently dying patient surrounded by doctor, priest, lawyer, praying child and lamenting friends and relations, is a simplified rendering of a subject that appears to have been part of the stock repertoire of the Heemskerk family of painters for two, possibly three, generations. One of the two earliest and most elaborate versions, both horizontal in format and certainly by Heemskerk II, is in the collection of the Earl of Wemyss, while the other, signed and dated 1674, is still in the Evelyn family collection where Vertue first noticed it in 1733 (Vertue IV, p.53). The Tate Gallery picture is loosely based on this last, with the costumes updated to around 1725. An intermediate upright version of this subject, also attributable to Heemskerk II, was on the art market recently (Phillips 20 July 1982, lot 58, repr., 597×508, 23 1/16×20), and others, too numerous to list, have appeared in other sales this century. An inferior replica of the Tate Gallery picture, probably by the same hand, is also known (712×610, 28×24; Earnshaw, sold Sotheby's 19 November 1969, lot 7, bt in, offered again at Knight, Frank & Rutley 11 December 1969, lot 193, bt Adrian Korsher).

The handling of the Tate Gallery picture (which appears to be unfinished) also seems to derive from Heemskerk II, notably in the rough, high-contrast modelling of the heads and the broadly drawn, clumsily expressive gestures of the figures, for which one can find precedents in such documented works by Heemskerk II as ‘The Oxford Election’ (Oxford Town Hall), ‘A Puritan Meeting’ at Saltram, and others. Its markedly weak spatial construction, particularly noticeable in the angle of the bed, the priest's chair and the height of the lawyer's table in the background, speak of a painter who could imitate details, but was unable to reorganise them into a convincing whole. One could thus suppose that the younger Heemskerk was a useful helper in the family studio, but failed to develop beyond the imitative level after his father's death in 1704.

The earlier attribution of this painting to Hogarth was partly based on his affinity for low genre and his possible borrowings from Heemskerk's engraved works, as already pointed out by Antal (1962). There is also a superficial thematic resemblance between this scene and two drawings by Hogarth entitled ‘An Operation Scene in Hospital’ (Oppé 1948, nos.64, 65, pls.65, 66), but these appear to date from a later stage in Hogarth's career and could take their inspiration from many other sources. The tendency to attribute low genre scenes to Hogarth was already noted by J.T. Smith, who wrote in 1829, that ‘Mercier, Van Hawkin [Van Aken], Highmore, Pugh, or that drunken pot-house Painter, the younger Heemskirk, who was a singer at Sadler's Wells’ were all painters whom the unwary tended to confuse with Hogarth. The only reasonably documented possible work by Hogarth of this period, the ‘Sign of the Paviour’ of c.1725 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven), exhibits an inventiveness in design and energy in handling that, however crude, seem to point towards greater developments, a feature wholely lacking in T00808.


Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988