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William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

The Laughing Audience

Museum number: P21

Curatorial note

This small print served as a subscription ticket for Hogarth's series of engravings A Rake's Progress and for his print of Southwark Fair. It appears that the plate has been cut down to remove the receipt which would have been written across the bottom. Complete examples can be found in, for example, the British Museum collection of prints and drawings (see their website).

In the upper part of this print, in a candle-lit box at the theatre, are members of the gentry ignoring the stage in favour of other pursuits. To the right a gentleman takes a pinch of snuff from his wrist whilst ogling a young woman who is holding his snuff box in her left hand. On the left an orange seller has entered the box and is taking an orange out of her basket for a second gentleman. Another orange seller holding a full basket of fruit is reaching up and tugging his sleeve from below. In the lower part of the image a mixed audience of men and women are shown in the pit, all laughing uproariously except for one sour-faced man in the back row, next to the orange seller. Along the bottom of the image are three musicians playing away, safely ensconsed behind a row of spikes, protected from the rowdy audience.

Ronald Paulson notes that impressions of this state were sold as one of a set of 'Four Groups of Heads' with 'A Chorus of Singers' (see Soane Museum P24), 'Scholars at a Lecture' and 'The Company of Undertakers', issued in March 1736/7.

This picture has hung in its present position since at least 1830 when it is mentioned in Soane's first Description of his house. It is framed en suite with P24 in an eighteenth century 'Hogarth' frame and it seems likely that the two works entered Soane's collection together. Although this is an example of a subscription ticket for 'A Rake's Progress' there is no record that it entered Soane's collection with the paintings.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unknown but in Soane's collection by 1830.


J. Soane, Description, 1832, p.xii
Helen Dorey, 'The Historic Framing and presentation of watercolours, drawings and prints at Sir John's Museum', in ed. Nancy Bell, Historic Framing and Presentation of Watercolours and Prints, Proceedings of the Conference of the Institute of Paper Conservation June 1996, pp. 20-31

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk