William Hogarth

Satan, Sin and Death (A Scene from Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’)


Not on display

William Hogarth 1697–1764
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 619 × 745 mm
frame: 803 × 935 × 80 mm
Purchased 1966

Display caption

Gallery label, March 2022

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Catalogue entry

T00790 Satan, Sin and Death c.1735–40

Oil on canvas 619×745 (24 3/8×29 3/8) relined on canvas 624×760 (24 1/2×30)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid and Special Grant) 1966
PROVENANCE ...; in David Garrick's possession 1767, and after his death in 1779 by descent to his widow; Mrs Garrick's sale, Christie's 23 June 1823 (not in catalogue, but probably MS lot 79* in Christie's master-copy) bt T.S. Forman of Pall Mall; by descent to W.H. Forman, then to his sister-in-law Mrs Burt, and c.1889 to his nephew Major A.H. Browne of Callaly Castle, Northumberland, sold Sotheby's 27 June 1899 (56) bt Charles Fairfax Murray; ...; G. Greer, sold Sotheby's 9 December 1964 (91, repr.) bt Sabin Galleries from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Tate Gallery 1971 (91, repr. in col. p.24)
ENGRAVED 1. Line engraving by Charles Townley, captioned ‘Hell-Gate, Satan, Sin and Death’, pub. 15 April 1767, dedicated to the then owner, David Garrick.J. Nichols (1781, etc.) states that the plate was destroyed soon after a very few prints from it had been made.
2. Line engraving by T. Rowlandson and John Ogbourne in 1792 (see no. 122)
3. Etching by Samuel Ireland for his Graphic Illustrations 1794, I, facing p.178, after C. Townley's engraving
LITERATURE Nichols 1781, p.134, 1782, p.319, 1785, p.404; Ireland 1794, pp.178–81; Nichols & Steevens 1810, pp.260–2, 1817, pp.269–70; Gentleman's Magazine, XCIII, 1823, Pt II, p.63 (for mention in Garrick sale); Ephraim Hardcastle, Wine and Walnuts, 1823, II, pp.276–7; Nichols 1833, p.363; W. Chaffers, Catalogue of Works of Antiquity and Art collected by the late William Henry Forman ... and removed in 1890 to Callaly Castle, Northumberland by Major A.H. Browne, 1892, pp.25, 206, no.51; Dobson 1898, pp.257, 312; Dobson 1902, pp.186, 218; Dobson 1907, pp.220, 263; Beckett 1949, p.72; Antal 1962, pp.155, 180; G. Schiff, Johann Henrich Füsslis Milton-Galerie, Zurich and Stuttgart 1963, pp.50, 133 n.229; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.117, no.5 L; D. Bindman, ‘Hogarth's “Satan, Sin and Death” and its influence’, Burlington Magazine, CXII, 1970, pp.153–8, fig.29; Paulson 1971, 1, pp.388, 551 n.18, II, pp.283, 412, 453 n.96, fig.280; Hildegard Omberg, William Hogarth's Portrait of Thomas Coram, Uppsala 1974, pp.30, 35–6, 147 nn.35, 36, 38, 149 n.18, pl.5 (detail); Webster 1979, pp.73, 76, repr. in col. p.81

This unfinished oil or sketch is an illustration to Milton's Paradise Lost, Book 11, lines 648–726, which describe how Satan, in his ascent out of Hell on to Earth, is challenged at the Hell-Gate by its guardian, Death. Before they can join in combat, however, they are separated by Sin, who reveals to Satan that she is his daughter, and that Death is the fruit of her incestuous union with him, and consequently Satan's son.

Bindman (1970) suggests plausibly that the painting may have been begun in the mid-1730s, at a time when the elder Jonathan Richardson read parts of his Explanatory Notes on Paradise Lost (published in 1734) to a club of writers and artists, including Hogarth, that met at Old Slaughter's Coffee House in St Martin's Lane. In his Notes Richardson points to this scene as representing the key to the whole work. This dating is supported by certain stylistic features of the painting, like the colouring, and the handling of the female head of Sin, which are consistent with this period in Hogarth's work. He had already produced two engraved illustrations for Paradise Lost in about 1725, which were not, however, used (Paulson 1965, I, nos.55, 56, II, pls.58, 59). Milton's Paradise Lost is, along with the works of Shakespeare and Swift, one of the three volumes on which Hogarth rests his self-portrait of 1745 (no.103), showing thereby the work's fundamental importance to him in his ambitions both as a commentator on moral issues and as a history painter. If the early dating is accepted, this would make it the earliest painting devoted to a subject from Milton, predating Burke's seminal Enquiry into ... the sublime and the beautiful, published in 1757, in which this passage and the description of Death in particular is singled out as an absolute example of the Sublime. Known for many years only from engravings after Townley's rare print of 1767, Hogarth's composition was to exert a profound influence on later painters of the Sublime, like Fuseli, Barry, Romney, Blake and others (for fullest discussion see Bindman 1970) and ultimately, via Gillray, even on Jacques-Louis David (L. Gowing in catalogue of the Tate Gallery exhibition 1971, p.40).

Hogarth's own composition derives certain elements, notably the figures of Satan and Death, from Sir John Medina's illustration for the same passage in the 1688 illustrated edition of Paradise Lost, which remained popular well into the eighteenth century. Hogarth's interpretation of the details and the dramatic lighting, however, are his own, and unfinished alterations to Satan's arm on the left (he was experimenting with raising it shoulder-high), as well as the unnaturally enormous stride of the figure, show that he was at pains to develop it into an even more dynamic representation of evil energy unleashed. Omberg's (1974) suggestion that the figure of Satan derives from studies of warriors by Cheron is not entirely convincing visually.

Samuel Ireland's statement (1794, p.178) that the subject was painted for Garrick is unlikely to be correct in view of its now generally accepted early date, although the suggestion that it was left unfinished because of a quarrel between Garrick and the painter (Gentleman's Magazine 1823) may reflect a failed attempt to have it finished at a later date. Be that as it may, the painting is first mentioned as being in Garrick's possession in 1767, and described as ‘unfinished’ in 1781 by John Nichols, who also subjected it to scathing criticism as an aberration in the work of a comic history painter.

Although the painting does not appear in the catalogue of Mrs Garrick's sale in 1823, its inclusion in it is attested by an apparently contemporary inscription on the back of the stretcher: ‘Hogarth purchased [?2]3 June 1823 at Mrs Garrick's sale at Christie's by me TS Forman’. A report on the sale in The Gentleman's Magazine specifically mentions that Forman bought not only the ‘Happy Marriage’ sketch (now at the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro), but also ‘Satan, Sin and Death’, both at seven guineas each. No lot numbers are given, but Christie's master copy lists in manuscript, after some additions to the main bulk of the sale, an undescribed lot ‘79*’, which was sold to Forman at £22 1S, a price consistent with an oil sketch, and one already noted by Dobson, who, however, does not cite his source.

The Rowlandson/Ogbourne engraving of 1792 after this composition was made from ‘a painting in chiaro-scuro by R. Livesay’. This was sold in the Standly sale, Christie's 14–22 April 1845 (1220), and bought by Colnaghi. The sale also included (lot 1221) a sepia drawing of the same subject, without, however, a clear attribution to any artist.

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

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