The South Sea Bubble

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By 1720, Hogarth had set up his own shop as an engraver and enrolled in local drawing academies. He enjoyed his first success with prints satirizing contemporary political situations. In this drawing for one of his earliest engravings, the artist lampooned the perpetrators of a recent financial crisis. Thousands of European investors had become embroiled in a speculative scheme dubbed the South Sea Bubble and were financially devastated by its collapse. Hogarth’s interpretation of the consequences of speculation is particularly brutal. At center and left, the naked figures of Honor and Honesty are being beaten by Self-Interest and Villainy; a merry-goround twirls madly at center, laden with a prostitute, a nobleman, and a clergyman, reflecting the diversity of the scheme’s victims. This initial sketch reveals Hogarth developing his talent as a narrative artist steeped in the conventions of contemporary satire.

The South Sea Bubble
1721
Graphite; incised with stylus
Royal Collection Trust, Windsor Castle