William Hogarth, the amazing artist I wrote about in a previous post, inspired other artists after his time as well! One such artist was George Cruikshank (1792-1878), another British artist that did many works of social satire, and like Hogarth, some moral stories told in pictures like a primitive comic strip. I think he was directly inspired by Hogarth’s works, and mirrored many scenes and motifs from Hogarth! Two of his most prominent works, and my favorite of his was made for the Temperance movement, which believed that alchohol and drunkenness was the cause of many social ills and misery. His first work for the Temperance movement, “The Bottle” (1847), details the decay of an idyllic middle class family from the ravages of “the bottle”. I provided links to click on for a much more detailed analysis of each picture from victorianweb.org.
The first scene is when the bottle is first brought out. Everyone is happy and the home is filled with nice mementos and gives an atmosphere of warmth. The family is happy, and seems to be doing quite well. The Bottle is brought out for the first time: The husband induces his wife “Just to take a drop”.
The second scene is when the father loses his job to “the bottle”, and the family is selling their clothes to raise money to live off of. The father now looks disheveled, and out of it, and the two children who were playing by the fire now look on in trepidation. The mother and daughter look a bit more hopeful things may turn around. He Is Discharged from His Employment for Drunkenness: They Pawn Their Clothes to Supply the Bottle
In the third scene, they lose their possessions, as the father cannot find work, and they spiral into poverty. They must sell almost everything to stay afloat. The picture seems portrays the whole family being affected now, and all look miserable at this unfortunate turn of events. They huddle towards the fireplace, in what I think is symbolic of them trying to “keep warm”, and away from the coldness of the harsh world closing in. The men taking their stuff are in shadow, contrasted with the family in the light by the fireplace, perhaps symbolic of the darkness and coldness of the fate that awaits them. An Execution Sweeps Off the Greater Part of Their Furniture: They Comfort Themselves with the Bottle
The family are now turned out, and have to beg to get by. Their young son is off in the distance begging and a woman gives him some money. Their clothes are now raggedy and disheveled. They are no longer middle class. It is evident, that even with what little money they’re begging for, the father spends it all on the bottle, continuing the cycle as they are outside of the liquor store and the father puts a new bottle in his pocket. Unable to Obtain Employment, They Are Driven by Poverty into the Streets to Beg, and by This Means They Still Supply the Bottle.
The family has lost their youngest child, the little girl from the first few scenes. Everyone is mourning her, but the father stares on, only turning to the bottle for comfort. He seems to have a degree of remorse, but cares more about his drink, than the loss of his youngest child. The darkness is now closing in, occupying more of the room than in the scene prior when they lot their possessions. Again, they huddle by the fireplace, clinging to what little warmth is left, while the coldness and darkness of the world is closing in fast. The elder daughter also, is shown to be moving away from the attachment to the dysfunctional family, symbolized by her at the coffin of her younger sister. This is the turning point for her shown in subsequent scenes. I think she starts to realize this whole thing is wrong. Cold, Misery, and Want, Destroy Their Youngest Child: They Console Themselves with the Bottle
Things reach a breaking point: the father gets physical in a drunken rage, while the children hold him back. There is no more light by the fireplace. The whole room is now dark, except for some light from a neighbor peeking in. The world and its darkness has enveloped the whole family. The room is in disarray, and furniture on its side or upside down, just like their family life. The only light comes from a concerned neighbor, who witnesses the abuse. Perhaps she would try to do something? Fearful Quarrels, and Brutal Violence, Are the Natural Consequences of the Frequent Use of the Bottle
This scene by far is my favorite. So much is going on! My most prominent observation is the look on the father’s face. It is not one of malice, or evil, but looks of horror, confusion, and remorse all at once. It’s as if he’s at a turning point, or breaking point, as if he knows he went too far, but now it is too late. He can’t take back what transpired. I particularly liked this analysis from Victorian Web:
Once again we encounter a study in black-and-white, the whiteness of the coal fire, plaster above the barren mantel, and the bare floorboards mirrored in the dresses of the lamenting women contrasting the darkness of the open doorway, the police uniforms, the kneeling woman (left, who prevents us from seeing the corpse, for which we as viewers must create appropriate images) and the ragged child (right), who chews his nails in sheer anxiety as he watches the drama starring his surviving parent unfold in the midst of what was once a thriving, congenial home. The scene juxtaposes the curiosity of the neighbors, the stunned responses of the children, the anguished stare of the demented father, and the cool professionalism of the police and the attending physician, who, one suspects, are no strangers to the deadly repercussions of “The Bottle.” The cupboard, once stocked with dinnerware, is open once again, perhaps portending the life-long incarceration of the madman. (victorianweb.org)
The part about the juxtaposition between the intense emotions of the crowed and the children, and the “cool professionalism” of the police and the doctor was my favorite insight. It is true, that they have probably seen that scene play out time and time again, and are desensitized to it all. I think it is also one of the mot compelling scenes to a modern audience, as a scene like that could easily be made with modern apparel in a modern household. Now, sadly like back then, police and first responders often get calls for such horrible scenes, with neighbors and children caught in the middle. The husband, in a State of Furious Drunkenness, Kills His Wife with the Instrument of All Their Misery
The very last scene shows the aftermath. The son and daughter look upon their deranged father, now a shell of his former self. This is my second favorite image. I think surprisingly, this image gives off a more of an atmosphere of sympathy or pity, than harsh justice being done. The father is in prison, or an insane asylum, but it is lit up more and is more inviting than the usual dark motif of a dungeon like atmosphere. It seems more of a message to pity the father, as he has now broke down and is no longer sane enough to be responsible for his crimes anymore. In here, perhaps he is finally safe from the harsh outside world, symbolized in the shadows in the doorway to outside his cell. The children also raise some questions, like how did they get so finely dressed? This is the lead into the sequel that details the children’s fall from grace. Again, Victorian Web has a great analysis:
Cruikshank creates visual continuity with the earlier plates by placing the coal-grate with its chained poker, the source of warmth in the chilly, barren room, to the right, and the doorway to the left, which matches the juxtaposition Cruikshank established in the family parlour in the opening scene. The daughter, now emotionally detached, stands just left of centre, standing on the bare floorboards. The father wears a jacket and trousers that are no longer torn, but he wears slippers rather than shoes, suggesting that he will never walk the streets a free man again but will remain an inmate for life. His shorn head, a prophylactic against lice, is the singular badge of his imprisonment. Despite the fact that he sits next to to a roaring fire, the madman clutches himself, as if he is cold, his staring eyes suggest that, in his mind’s eye, he is seeing something horrible — presumably the corpse of his murdered wife. The son and daughter study him objectively, as if he were a curiosity, as the turnkey (far left) casually studies all three of them, establishing an atmosphere of surveillance. (victorianweb.org)
Overall, Cruikshank tells a poignant tale, even for today! The ravages of addiction are still with us, and even Victorian Web observed it is not unlike the opioid crisis today! No matter what time period, this lesson is one we can all learn from…