Past Events

Painters and players from Hogarth to Olivier

Lecture – Robin Simon

  • 14 January to 11 February 2013
  • 6:30 – 7:30 pm
  • Sainsbury Wing Theatre, National Gallery, London

The theme of this lecture series is the relationship between British art and the theatre from the eighteenth century to the twentieth.

William Hogarth (1697–1764) said of his famous ‘progresses’, ‘My picture was my stage and men and women my actors’, a phrase that has become a cliché in the history of British art. What is less familiar is the fact that Hogarth was reasserting age-old ideas about the interaction between the visual arts and the drama that had recently been re-examined in academic discussions in France. It was of particular significance in the making of ‘histories’, when a shared language of gesture and expression was deployed and when particular rules were held to apply. Actors such as David Garrick (1717–79) were explicit about finding inspiration in painting and sculpture, and the habit was maintained by such later giants of the theatre as Henry Irving (1838–1905) and Laurence Olivier (1907–89).

The high point of Hogarth’s career coincided with the emergence of the actor and theatrical impresario David Garrick, who became one of his closest friends. The last years of Hogarth’s life saw the appearance of an inspired successor as a painter of theatrical compositions, a protégé of Garrick, Johan Zoffany (1733–1810), who went on to leave an unparalleled record of the contemporary stage. He also exploited to a peculiar degree what Diderot identified as ‘le paradoxe sur le comédien’.

Distressed man in regalia sitting on bed

William Hogarth, David Garrick as Richard III, 1745

Digital image courtesy of Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

About the speaker

  • Head portrait of a laughing man with microphone

    Robin Simon was Paul Mellon Lecturer in British Art 2013, at the National Gallery, London, and Yale University, with a series of public lectures ‘Painters and Players from Hogarth to Olivier’. He teaches for Yale University in London on the cultural interaction between Britain and France in the eighteenth century. His most recent book, Hogarth, France and British Art: The rise of the arts in eighteenth-century Britain, was published in 2007.

    Robin Simon is currently working on a new history of the Royal Academy and its collections; is co-curator of the tercentenary exhibition of Richard Wilson at the Yale Center for British Art and National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 2014; and is a contributor to the catalogue of the exhibition ‘All’alba della modernità: pittura brittanica da Hogarth a Turner’, Fondazione Roma, 2014. He has continued to publish on early Italian painting, wrote The Art of Cricket with the late Alastair Smart in 1983 to accompany the exhibition of the same name, and still writes and lectures on the history of cricket.

    Robin Simon has been art critic of the Daily Mail for the last twenty-six years and has written for many newspapers and journals including the Times Literary Supplement, Burlington Magazine, Apollo, Sunday Times, Spectator, New Statesman, Country Life, Opera Now and The Cricketer, and for five years wrote a monthly column in Tatler. His broadcasting experience includes eight years on the panel of ‘X Marks the Spot’ (BBC Radio 4); ‘Private Passions’ (with Michael Berkeley, BBC Radio 3); ‘Test Match Special’; ‘The World at One’; ‘Today’; and reviews for BBC2 TV, Sky TV, BBC World Service, Channel 4, CBS, NBC and ARD TV/Das Erste.  

    Robin Simon also devises and presents commissioned entertainments, including ‘Hogarth versus Handel’, Middle Temple, 2000 (with Emma Kirkby, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, the Academy of St Martin’s in the Fields and the Tallis Choir); and ‘Ruling Passions: Music and Monarchy’, for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Villa Decius, Cracow, 2002 (with Alison Pearce, Paul Wynne-Griffiths and Anton Dowinga).