Catherine Roehre on Hogarth’s “The Polling”

London native William Hogarth painted a series of political canvases from 1754 to 1755 named Election. The Polling was the third of four paintings in the series, which depicts a dubious polling center, full of trickery and deceit. The work (101.5 X 127 centimeters ) was inspired by politics in England during 1754, and Hogarth chose to reveal the corrupt election through his signature satirical style.

William Hogarth, "The Polling" (1754).

William Hogarth, “The Polling” (1754).

1754 was the year of the General Election, but British eyes were drawn in particular to Oxfordshire, where the election campaign was becoming notoriously fixed. The Whig and Tory candidates spent large amounts of money on hosting extravagant dinners to bribe local voters with lavish food and drink. Hogarth’s first painting of Election was released in May, just days before the election. The entire series occurs in a fictional town, Hogarth later announced. [1] Hogarth used his popularity and talent to reveal the corruption of the General Election in Oxfordshire.

William Hogarth, "The Polling," 1754.

William Hogarth, “The Polling,” 1754.

     The Polling depicts voting day, and how both candidates are bringing out any eligible male voter. The voters in line involve a limb-less soldier, a mentally disabled man, a manacled prisoner, who appears to be ordering the disabled whom to vote for, a dying gentleman, a blind man, and lastly, a cripple. A few voters are wearing colored ribbons to identify which party they are a member of – blue for Tories and orange for Whigs. In the far background a woman’s coach is collapsing, and her coachmen are too intrigued in a game of cards to notice. The woman perhaps symbolizes future Britain, and the coachmen are the fraudulent politicians who are running the country straight towards disaster. Both politicians appear worried; however, the Whig candidate looks disapprovingly towards the Tory, who is wiping his brow nervously. The painting is so full of life that they viewer can practically hear the ruckus of the scene – the coach breaking, lawyers arguing, and the prisoner doling out advice. [2]

     The Polling incorporates  a great deal of detail, and the lines, colors, and shadows all give life to the painting. The people in the crowd have different shapes and heights, giving the work a sense of chaos. The polling structure involves perfect, vertical lines, making the booth feel unnatural, with a sense of unease. On the other hand however, the structure appears sound and sturdy, unlike the rowdy crowd below. Hogarth also made an engraving of the piece, perhaps to show in better detail his use of shadows. For example, the tree in the lower right corner is dramatically enticing with what appears to be a wailing, human-like face, but this important detail is easily overlooked in the painting. The engraving contributes yet also takes away from the original work; because it is in black and white the color of the political party flags and the ribbons of the voters become illegible. The overall color use in the painting gives a foreboding aura, as if a storm is quickly approaching.

William Hogarth predicted Britain’s impending fate due to the fraudulent politics of his time. His deliberate use of lines, shadows, and colors gave The Polling a unique, meaningful, and inspiring ambiance. Hogarth took it upon himself to stand up to an injustice of his era – appallingly corrupt political practices.

Works Cited

Hallett, Mark, and Christine Riding. Hogarth: The Artist and the City. London: Tate, 2006. Print.


[1] Information gathered from Hogarth:The Artist and the City  by Mark Hallett and Christine Riding(London: Tate, 2006), pp. 228 to 231.

[2] Summarized from The Polling essay by Catherine Roehre, September 25, 2012.

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