Discolored Varnish

The visually altering effect of aged varnish was familiar to Hogarth and his contemporaries. In Hogarth’s print, Time Smoking a Picture, the artist includes at the feet of Father Time a large jar of varnish. The print admonishes the viewer; To nature and your self appeal / Nor learn from others what to feel. Hogarth responds to debates among artists about achieving an ‘old master glow’ in their own paintings and the high value collectors place on this. Here Hogarth pokes fun at an overly romantic view of darkened paintings and encourages the viewer not to embrace this bias. That Hogarth makes a clear correlation between time’s effect on varnish and more obvious forms of physical damage (note the location of the scythe), lends strong support to present day efforts to remove darkened varnishes from Hogarth’s paintings.

Image: Time Smoking a Picture, etching and engraving on cream wove paper, plate size 24.6 x 18.4 cm, from John Nichols, ed., The works of William Hogarth: from the original plates restored by James Heath: Printed for Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1821-22; Gift of Richard Ward Greene

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