First Stage of Cruelty


 Here we meet the youthful protagonist of the Stages of Cruelty series, Tom Nero. An orphan lacking parental guidance, Nero ignores the well-dressed boy offering him a tart and continues sodomizing a dog with the pointed end of a cudgel as his mates hold the hound in place. All around them, other children demonstrate this nascent stage of cruelty: tying a bone to a dog’s tail, staging a cock-throwing contest, and hanging two cats by the tail. The animals also turn on each other, and a dog disembowels a cat in the foreground. Eerily hinting at Nero’s fate, another child labels his hangman drawing Tom. Working on this drawing after the study shown to your left, Hogarth adjusted the scale of the figures relative to their setting and made other refinements to the composition in preparation for the print.

William Hogarth (1697–1764)
First Stage of Cruelty
Red chalk; incised with stylus; verso rubbed with red chalk for transfer.
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) in 1909.
The Morgan Library & Museum, III, 32b.