Unknown artist, Britain

Study of a Human Skull


Not on display

Unknown artist, Britain
Chalk on paper
Support: 178 × 199 mm
frame: 425 × 441 × 24 mm
Presented by the Rev. John Gibson 1892

Catalogue entry

N02220 Study of a Human Skull? c. 1750

Black chalk on cream hand-made paper 178×199 (7×7 3/4)

Presented by the Revd John Gibson to the National Gallery 1892; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1919

PROVENANCE ...; Revd John Gibson by 1892

EXHIBITED. Two Centuries of British Drawings from the Tate Gallery, CEMA tour 1944 (30 as Hogarth, ‘a study for “The Quack Doctor”’)
LITERATURE Michael Ayrton and Bernard Denvir, Hogarth's Drawings, 1948, p.78, pl.30 (as Hogarth, ‘a study for “The Quack Doctor”, dated 1744’); Davies 1959, p.56 n.104

The drawing entered the National Gallery's collection in 1892 (with no.12) attributed to Hogarth. This attribution, retained after its transfer to the Tate Gallery in editions of the Tate Gallery's British School catalogue until 1947, was apparently based solely on what Martin Davies, more judiciously referring to the drawing in 1959 as ‘ascribed to Hogarth’, termed ‘some apparently chance resemblance’ to the skull which reposes (also propped up on a book, but looking towards the right) on a table on the right of Hogarth's ‘Marriage A-la-Mode III: The Visit to the Quack Doctor’ (National Gallery no.115, repr. Michael Wilson, The National Gallery, London, 1977, p.116).

It is difficult to make confident suggestions either about the date of the drawing or its artist's country of origin. While it is included here as British School, the artist may prove to be Dutch of Flemish. The artist's purpose in making the drawing appears to have been primarily to exercise his powers of observation and draughtsmanship, which are evidently of a high order, with more sensitivity to the play of shadows than might be looked for in an anatomical or antiquarian draughtsman, yet with no exaggerated feeling for the macabre or for the poignancy of a memento mori.

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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