T01046 Sigismunda Mourning over the Heart of Giuscardo 1759
Oil on canvas 1004×1265 (39 9/16×49 3/4)
Inscribed ‘W. Hogarth pinx!|1759’ b.r.
Bequeathed by J.H. Anderdon to the National Gallery 1879; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919
PROVENANCE Painted 1758–9 for Sir Richard (later Earl) Grosvenor, who withdrew from the commission; remained in the painter's studio until his death; Mrs Hogarth; on her death in 1789 passed to her cousin Mary Lewis, sold Greenwood's 24 April 1790 (52) £58 16s bt Alderman John Boydell, offered as one of the prizes in a Lottery for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery drawn 28 January 1805; ...; ‘Phillips’, offered Christie's 27–8 June 1807 (84); ...; according to Nichols & Steevens sold Christie's July 1807 for 400 gns, but no such sale can be traced; according to Nichols & Steevens with Messrs Boydell in 1808 and 1810; ...; J.H. Anderdon by 1814 when lent to BI
EXHIBITED Langford's Auction Rooms 16–18 February 1761; SA 1761 (43, withdrawn after ten days); Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery 1790(S); BI 1814 (162); BI 1856 (118); Art Treasures, Manchester 1857 (21); RA Winter 1870 (43); Tate Gallery 1951 (70); Tate Gallery 1971 (211, repr. p.86)
LITERATURE Nichols 1781, pp.42–7, 1782, pp.60–8, 1785, pp.69–78; Ireland 1798, pp.195–217; Nichols & Steevens, I, 1808, pp.189–90, 311–36, engr. (by Basire) facing p.321, II, 1810, p.iv, III, 1817, pp.174, 197; Nichols 1833, pp.52–8, 278–84, 362–3; [Edward Draper], ‘Memorials of Hogarth’, Pictorial World, 26 September 1874; Dobson 1902, pp.114–16, 174, repr. facing p.116, 1907, pp.121, 125–7, 134, 164, 169, 205, 273, 275, repr. facing p.124: Whitley 1928, I, pp.175–7; Walpole's Correspondence, IX, p.365; F. Saxl & R. Wittkower, British Art and the Mediterranean, Oxford 1948, no.61, fig.1; Beckett 1949, p.73, pl.196; Burke 1955, pp.219–21; Antal 1962, pp.156–8, pl.131c; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.114, no.194, repr.; Paulson 1970, I, pp.284–5, no.245, II, pl.289; Paulson 1971, II, pp.179, 235, 243, 262, 266, 270–8, 280, 282–3, 286, 291, 295–6, 316, 319, 323–5, 331, 334, 348–9, 376–7, 388, 418–19, 436 n.8, 452 n.84, 460–1 n.39, 470 nn.27, 30, pl.275; Webster 1979, pp.174–6, 188, no.183, repr., repr. in col. p.172; Bindman 1981, pp.200, 203, fig.161
ENGRAVED 1. Etching, unfinished, by James Basire, pub. 5 May 1790 2. Etching (said to be of original sketch) by Robert Dunkarton, pub. T.B. Freeman & Co. 1 February 1793 3. Stipple engraving by Benjamin Smith, published J. & J. Boydell 4 June 1795
The subject is taken from Boccaccio's Decameron, as retold in Dryden's Fables, published in 1699. It shows Sigismunda, daughter of prince Tancred, grieving for Guiscardo, one of her father's attendants, whom she had secretly married. Enraged by the unequal match, Tancred had Guiscardo killed, and sent Sigismunda his heart in a golden goblet. As a result, Sigismunda takes poison and dies in front of her remorse-racked father.
The subject appealed to Hogarth as being a particularly suitable one with which to demonstrate the superiority of the visual arts over the spoken word. The high point of the poem is Dryden's elaborate description of Sigismunda's silent grief: ‘Mute, solemn sorrow, free from female noise,|Such as the majesty of grief destroys ...’. It is echoed by a quotation from Horace, written by Hogarth into the margin of his autobiographical notes dealing with this painting (BL Add. MS 27991, folio 38), to the effect that the passions are more readily moved by what we see than by what we hear. He writes further that ‘my whole aim was to fetch Tear(s) from the Spectator ...’, as effectively as tragedians do on the stage. Above all, the painting was to prove to the world that he could rival the acknowledged Old Masters in the field of history painting. In the event, the attempt proved a bitter failure and caused Hogarth great unhappiness.
The painting was under way by the end of 1758, when Hogarth wrote on 23 November to his friend William Huggins, complaining of feeling his age - he had just turned sixty - and of the fact that he had hardly been able to muster up spirits enough to go on with the two Pictures I have now in hand because they require so much exertion, if I would succeed in any tolerable degree in them. notwithstanding the terms they are done upon are the most agreeable that can be wish'd for, I am desir'd to choose my subject, am allow'd my own time, and what mony I shall think proper to ask: one is for my Lord Charlemont the other for Sr. Richard Grosvenor, one should not conceal the the [sic] names of such as behave so nobly ... (MS. in the collection of Mrs Donald F. Hyde; see Paulson 1971, II, pp.264–5).
Lord Charlemont's painting was the genre piece ‘The Lady's Last Stake’ (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York), for which Hogarth was to receive in due course £100 and a very flattering note from Charlemont. The young Sir Richard Grosvenor (1731–1802, raised to the peerage in 1761) probably saw the painting in Hogarth's studio and offered him the same generously open terms for another painting, possibly expecting to receive something similar. In his account of the affair, written at the end of his life in 1764 and enlarged upon in his subscription book in which he kept all the letters relating to these commissions as contrasting examples of good and bad patronage (BL Add.MS 22394 folios 32–7), Hogarth maintains that he had been prevailed upon ‘... to undertake Painting this difficult subject, which being seen and fully approved by his Lordhp whilst in hand, was after much time and utmost effort finished ...’.
Hogarth's choice of subject and asking price of £400 were prompted by his irritation at the unprecedented price of £404 5s paid for a feeble seventeenth-century ‘Sigismunda mourning over the heart of Guiscardo’ (fig.41), then attributed to Correggio, at the sale of Sir Luke Schaub's collection (Langford's 26 April 1758, lot 29, bt Sir Thomas Sebright; Duke of Newcastle collection; offered Christie's 31 March 1939, bt in). Hogarth rightly doubted the attribution, and was outraged by the sums collectors were prepared to pay for second-rate works merely because, he thought, they were old. Moreover, he also knew that Sir Richard had spent in excess of £1,000 at the sale (Gentleman's Magazine, XXVIII, 1758, p.225). On 13 June 1759 he wrote to Sir Richard to say that the painting was finished, naming his price, but reiterating their agreement that ‘you would use no ceremony of refusing the Picture, when done, if you should not be thoroughly satisfied with it’. Sir Richard's coolly polite reply made it clear that he found the painting distasteful, and that he was far from eager to take the painting off Hogarth's hands. Deeply wounded, Hogarth released him from the agreement, and the painting remained in his studio.
Hogarth's high estimation of the work was partly conditioned by the immense labour he put into it in his intense anxiety to succeed. In some verses on the Sigismunda affair, composed by him with the help of his friend Paul Whitehead in August 1759, he notes that he worked on it ‘at least two hundred days’ (original MS. in New York Public Library, Berg Collection, published in Paulson 1971, pp.277–8), and asserts that ignorant connoisseurs will recognise its true worth only when it had become blackened with age. In keeping with this, he chose the subject of ‘Time Smoking a Picture’ as his design for the subscription ticket during his first unsuccessful attempt to get the painting engraved in 1761. He arranged for the painting to go on display at Langford's Rooms on 17–18 February (advertisements in Lloyd's Evening Post, Public Advertiser, and others, on 16 February 1761) in order to collect subscriptions for an engraving. Subscription began on 2 March, but was stopped on 26 March, and the fifty subscriptions collected were returned. In June 1764 he instructed Edward Edwards to make a drawing of the painting and sent it to his friend Dr George Hay to look at, explaining that James Basire was to undertake an engraving from it, while he would do the head himself (MS letter to
George Hay, dated 12 June 1764, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, published in Paulson 1971, II, p.418). In the event this remained unfinished, and Basire published it as such in 1790 (fig.42, Paulson 1965, pl.289, and J. Burke & C. Caldwell, Hogarth Engravings, 1968, pls.256A and (detail) 256B). It is interesting to note that the lower part of the composition differs considerably from the painting, showing more of the lower part of the figure and differences in the carving of the table. During relining in the past the canvas was cut on all sides and it is impossible to say at this stage whether Hogarth cut and repainted the lower part at some later date, or whether the design, which on the whole looks better balanced in the print, was adapted for the engraving only.
In May 1761 Hogarth included the painting in the SA exhibition at Spring Gardens. According to a later source (Letter by ‘M.M.’ in St James's Chronicle, 8–10 April 1790), he is said to have posted a man near the picture to make notes of any criticisms. Apparently there were many, and he particularly noted one that complained that the folds of Sigismunda's white sleeve were too regular. There is evidence that this area was repainted, and it is known that Hogarth withdrew the painting from the exhibition after ten days, replacing it with one from the ‘Election’ series. Horace Walpole, who pilloried the painting in his Anecdotes of Painting and condemned it in immoderate terms, in a letter to George Montagu of 5 May 1761, as a portrait of a ‘maudlin whore’, also said her fingers were ‘bloody with the heart as if she had just bought a sheep's pluck in St. James's market’. If accurate, this is another detail later altered by Hogarth, and pentimenti around her fingertips seem to bear this out. As for the heart, according to J. Nichols it was painted from an injected one provided for Hogarth by his surgeon friend Caesar Hawkins.
As this is one of Hogarth's most laboured works, it is not surprising to find other evidence of extensive over-painting and alteration. The green curtain in the background covers an embroidered swag and tassel, and possibly a window. The table was originally a different shape, and a white napkin or paper drooping over its edge has been painted out. There are also changes to Sigismunda's veil and neck, and the crinkly paint surface of her face suggests several layers of repainting here also.
A curious detail which is absent in Basire's engraving is the lost-profile head of a man in a cap in the carved table-leg facing Sigismunda. It has a certain resemblance to Hogarth himself as seen in his late self-portrait of c. 1757 (National Portrait Gallery), but looking more elderly and hunched. While there is no documentary proof that this is indeed the case, a ‘signature’ of this nature in a painting of such paramount importance to him is not inconceivable, particularly if the model for Sigismunda was his wife Jane, as suggested by John Wilkes in his attack on the painting in his North Briton, no.17 (published 25 September 1762), where he described it as a ‘portrait of Mrs Hogarth in an agony of passion’. In her reminiscences Mrs Chappel of Westminster, who had been a maid of the Hogarths (see N01374), also claimed that Sigismunda had been modelled on Jane Hogarth herself, as the artist remembered her weeping over the death of her own mother, Lady Thornhill, who had died in 1757 (Draper 1874). A similar statement is made by John Ireland in 1791 (1, p.XCIV). Such a juxtaposition of the spouses would have been particularly poignant in view of the parallels between the subject of the painting and Jane's own secret marriage to her father's assistant, which reputedly incurred for them, initially at least, Sir James's unmitigated disapproval.
Hogarth apparently instructed his wife not to sell the painting for less than £500 in her lifetime. The fact that Mrs Hogarth refused to acknowledge Walpole's complimentary volume of his Anecdotes, published in 1780, in which he warmly praises Hogarth's genius but roundly condemns ‘Sigismunda’, is also an indication of her continued sensitivity on the subject. The painting received more official criticism in December 1790, when Reynolds obliquely referred to it in his 14th Discourse as an imprudent and presumptuous attempt by Hogarth at ‘the great historical style, for which previous habits had by no means prepared him’.
The drawing for the engraver by Edward Edwards already mentioned may have been included in the 1790 sale of Mrs Hogarth's collection, in the section under ‘Loose Prints and Drawings’, among ‘the first sketches of Sigismunda’, sold, as part of lot 28, to an unnamed buyer for £1 2s. This was probably Samuel Ireland, because his sale at Christie's, 6 May 1797, included, as lot 138, an ‘Original Sketch in Oil for Sigismunda, and a Drawing by Edwards, R.A.. touched upon by Hogarth for the use of the Engraver. - 5.5.0.’. Their present whereabouts are not known. The first oil sketch is known only from Dunkarton's engraving of 1793, and shows an upright instead of the final horizontal composition.
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988