An 18th Century Guide to What Is Beautiful, From Candlesticks to Curls - Atlas Obscura
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An 18th Century Guide to What Is Beautiful, From Candlesticks to Curls

article-image“The Analysis of Beauty” by William Hogarth (courtesy the Foundling Museum)

Does a curved, gilded candlestick possess the same rules of beauty as a twisted lock of golden hair? Those are the connections William Hogarth made in his The Analysis of Beauty published in 1753 — a treatise on his theories of what composes visual beauty.

After undergoing conservation, a copy of The Analysis of Beauty is going on view today at the Foundling Museum in London. It’s part of a small display called In Focus: Hogarth and Copyright that concentrates on the outspoken Hogarth’s work to protect artists’ rights.  Chloe Wong, who curated the display, told Atlas Obscura more about the historic book:

The idea behind ‘The Analysis of Beauty’ was to liberate visual art from the constraints of fashionable taste by developing a universal set of aesthetic principles which could be applied to any type of work. The Foundling Museum owns an important collection of paintings by Hogarth, including ‘The March of the Guards to Finchley’ and his portrait of Thomas Coram, and this book sets out the ideas which defined much of his work.

article-imageDetail of a sequence from The Analysis of Beauty (via Austin Kleon)

The 18th century English painter specialized in portraits that were celebrated for their realism, but he also preceded another art form with his satirical, sequential art: that of the comic book. The Analysis of Beauty involves both sides of his work, with detailed sequences that are often humorous around the edges of intricate illustrations to make the ideas easily approachable, along with his appreciation for the beauty of the human form. This was particularly evoked with his sensuous “Line of Beauty,” basically an S-shape, that he related to everything from the curve of an animal horn to the bend of a body to a fireplace control. (Author Alan Hollinghurst recently used this idea in his 2004 novel The Line of Beauty, which won the Booker Prize)

article-imagePage from The Analysis of Beauty (via Austin Kleon)

Yet while Hogarth was deeply interested in beauty and art, he also had a philanthropic side, which is what brought his work to the Foundling Museum. The museum is built in the place of the Foundling Hospital that was constructed in the 1740s as the UK’s first charity for abandoned children. Hogarth was an early benefactor and donated art and other materials to the hospital, which ended up inadvertently becoming the country’s first public art gallery, something Hogarth with his interest in making art and visual aesthetics accessible through works like The Analysis of Beauty surely appreciated.  

Here are a few more images from The Analysis of Beauty, courtesy of the Foundling Museum:

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 The Analysis of Beauty is on view as part of In Focus: Hogarth and Copyright from September 24, 2013 to January 5, 2014 at the Foundling Museum in London.