"O the Roast Beef of Old England"

November 9, 2016

During my research into William Hogarth I came across this painting "O the Roast beef of Old England" (fig.1) and I was really interested in the context of the painting. This painting was created after Hogarth's visit to France when he was arrested as a spy while sketching the fortification on the old city gate at Calais. Once he returned to England Hogarth took his revenge with this painting.

 

"Numerous xenophobic references indicate Hogarth's low opinion of the French. The huge side of British beef at the exact centre of the picture, destined for the English inn at Calais, is neatly balanced by the scrawny French soldier at the other side of the drawbridge. A fat friar, the only well-nourished Frenchman in the picture, covetously pokes the beef. In the right foreground, a starving Jacobite sits with his pathetic meal of an onion and a piece of bread, his overturned cup beside him. The Jacobites, the Scotsmen who fled to France after the unsuccessful Scottish rebellion of 1745, are further symbolised by the black crow which perches atop the stone cross above the drawbridge. To the left of the gate, framed by vegetables, sits Hogarth himself. As he sketches the drawbridge, the arresting officer's hand clasps his shoulder."    http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hogarth-o-the-roast-beef-of-old-england-the-gate-of-calais-n01464/text-summary

 

I found this painting really amusing and it shared many themes that I am interested in exploring, for example; nationalism, conflict and humour.

 

I took this painting as a starting point to create a piece relevant to the events and imagery of 2016 (fig.2). I was well aware that I did not want to copy the original painting and that I wanted to distance my piece enough that it did not look like a copy but close enough so that it was recognisable that I was referencing Hogarth. I believe there is a fine line between taking inspiration from art history and just copying it.

 

Using photoshop I cut and layered elements of the painting with photographs taken from the internet as I attempt to use humour to mask a very sensitive, dark event taking place in contemporary society. The underlying reference in my piece is of the horrific scenes that have been taking place in Calais over the past year or so as the location of Hogarth's original painting makes this unavoidable.

 

I was cautious to talk about such a serious event in an overtly political tone as I did not feel that my knowledge regarding such a complex situation was not deep enough and it would therefore be somewhat irresponsible for me to push a strong political opinion while being relatively uninformed in the grand scheme of things, although this does not mean I do not have an opinion regarding the migrant crisis in Calais. I feared that if i was to add many images taken directly from the jungle into my piece then the overall tone would appear too emotionally heavy on the surface. At the same time I needed to remember the seriousness of the event and not do a disservice or be disrespectful towards the migrants. I wanted to reference immigration  in a more metaphorical way and so I used images such as Wildebeests and sparrows to represent mass migration across continents. However I want to stress that this metaphor is not a direct comparison to the immigrants themselves, as this may seem dehumanising.

 

 

 

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