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BEVIS HILLIER

How Much Is That Doggy in the Window? : Two Centuries After William Hogarth's Death, His Pet Pug Has Learned to Fetch . . . Money

June 15, 1986|BEVIS HILLIER

"O'Neill, with his massive corpulence and scarlet, varicose nose, was a Hogarthian embodiment of the superstate he had labored for so long to maintain."

David A. Stockman, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, no doubt pondered for some time before choosing just those words to describe Speaker of the House Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill in his recent book, "The Triumph of Politics." And Hogarthian is a masterstroke of venom.

Other English artists are better known than William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose well-preserved house you pass as you drive from Heathrow Airport to central London. John Constable and J. M. W. Turner invented Impressionism before the French thought of it. Gainsborough's "Blue Boy," in the collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, is arguably the most famous single painting in America--Rembrandts, Vermeers and Picassos not excepted. But it is very easy to guess why Stockman chose Hogarthian. Hogarth was a satirist, and, because he was English, what he found on hand to satirize tended to be gross, beefy, John Bullish Englishmen. Speaker O'Neill may be of Irish descent, but he would seem to qualify nicely in the other departments.

Hogarth was himself Hogarthian. His self-portrait of 1745 shows a jowly, combative Englishman. In the foreground he depicted his pug dog, Trump, also jowly and combative. The likeness between Hogarth and his dog did not escape the notice of the painter's enemies. The satirist was, in turn, satirized in a vitriolic caricature, probably by Paul Sandby, a rival. Titled "Pugg's Graces," the drawing showed Hogarth with the hind legs of a dog. Beneath the print appeared an equally scurrilous (and misspelled) rhyme:

Behold a Wretch who Nature form'd in s pight,

Scorn'd by the Wise; he gave the Fools Delight. . . .

Deformity her Self his Figures place

She spreads an Uglines on every Face. . . .

Dunce Connoisseurs extol the Author Pugg,

The senseless, tasteless, impudent Hum Bugg.

The sculptor Louis-Francois Roubillac, who executed a bust of Hogarth, also made a terra-cotta model of Trump. That model is lost, but an engraving of it was made by Samuel Ireland in 1799. (Ireland noted that Hogarth had "jocularly observed . . . that there was a close resemblance betwixt his own countenance and that of his favorite dog, who was his faithful friend and companion for many years.")

Roubillac's terra cotta lives on in Ireland's engraving, just as certain lost drawings of Raphael live only in engraved copies by Marcantonio Raimondi. But the terra cotta also lives on in three surviving models of Trump in Chelsea porcelain, circa 1745-50. One is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; another is in a private English collection; the third was for many years in the collection of an eccentric English recluse, Tom Burn of Rous Lench Court, Worcestershire. Burn died last year, and his fine collection of English ceramics is to be sold by Sotheby's in London on July 1. Trump is expected to fetch more than $30,000.

There is a link between the Chelsea porcelain factory and Roubillac. The factory was founded in 1745 by Nicholas Sprimont, a silversmith from Liege, Belgium. In 1744 Sprimont had become godfather to Sophie Roubillac, the sculptor's daughter.

The figure of Trump has been meticulously researched by Tim Clarke of Sotheby's and John Mallet of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Comparisons made between marked Chelsea ware and the unmarked Rous Lench pug under ultraviolet light show the same peach-colored fluorescence. The ultraviolet tests indicate that the Rous Lench pug belongs to the earliest years of Chelsea, say 1745-47, while the Victoria and Albert Museum specimen dates from a little later, perhaps 1747-50.

The Rous Lench hoard is the most important collection of English ceramics still in private hands. Burn, who gathered the pieces over more than 50 years, was himself a Hogarthian type--the eccentric Englishman. He was given Rous Lench Manor by his parents as a 21st birthday present in 1928. His father, who ran a number of successful manufacturing and retail-tailoring firms, also gave him a Rolls-Royce. In 1946, Burn's father died, leaving his son the majority shares in the family business.

Burn began collecting old English pottery and porcelain in the late 1920s because he thought they were in keeping with the house, a half-timbered 16th-Century mansion to which additions had been made over the years. He had an obsessional feeling for the pieces he acquired; they were his "friends." Each day he solemnly said, "Good morning, young ladies" to two transfer-printed enamel portraits of the Gunning sisters, famous mid-18th-Century beauties. The few collectors invited to see his treasures had to brave freezing bedrooms, where fires were never lit, even during a snowy winter. Most thought the ordeal was worth it.

Besides the Chelsea Trump, the collection includes a delft bottle dated 1630 that once belonged to John Tomes, who saved the life of King Charles II after the Battle of Worcester; a salt-glazed bell molded as a lady in a long dress and a mobcap; a scent flask in the form of a baby bear, and a piece from the as yet unidentified "Girl in a Swing" factory, a cream jug exquisitely painted with flowers and moths, with trailing wild strawberries in relief round the foot. Sotheby's expects the collection to bring more than $2 million.

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