More about Before


The hair and clothes may look hundreds of years old, but this scene is all too familiar.

Before is exactly what it looks like--a study by William Hogarth of the actions leading up to a night of sex. But unlike intercourse itself, the implications behind the painting are a bit more nuanced.

For instance, there’s a story being told within the confines of the canvas. As part of the Rococo period, Hogarth found himself painting things in a flamboyant jovial nature not unlike famous contemporary and father of fête galante, Antoine Watteau. But what made Hogarth different was that he liked to insert small threads of narrative within his paintings. In Before, the man’s face and body language convey sexual intent, while the woman comes off annoyed and displeased.

But one of the more intriguing aspects of the painting is the dog. This isn’t so much a situation where the dog likes to watch as it is a metaphor for the man’s animalistic desire. The exaggerated physical gestures coupled with familiar human characteristics make it easy for the audience to fill in the rest of the scene with our minds.

Hogarth clearly wasn’t the only painter to use his brush to tell stories, but what made him stand out was that he wasn’t confined to the corners of one canvas to get his message out. He often used more than one painting to tell a complete tale, almost like panels in a comic book. For example, A Harlot’s Progress and Marriage A-La-Mode each contain a series of six pictures. Even Before has a companion piece titled After. You can probably guess what it looks like. Sets like these cement Hogarth as one of the granddaddies of sequential art. Sure, there’s no dialogue or narration like the comics we know and love today, but the foundation of the craft is there.

Another thing that set Hogarth apart from other artists from this period is that this dude was a master troll. It may not look like it because we’re so far removed from his time—almost 300 years to be exact—but Hogarth liked to poke fun at every day human situations just like your favorite meme accounts on Instagram. A guy trying to pull a woman into bed is a scene we’ve seen thousands of times. It’s so prevalent that it’s relatable. Now just slap some giant white writing with the phrase “Guys be like” and you’ve got yourself a dank meme. We live in a world today where nothing is left to the imagination, so Before might not seem like such a big deal to us, but back then this would have left mouths agape because of its sheer audacity and brutally honest nature. This is what made Hogarth so special. He painted in the guise of a style that celebrated formal techniques and methods, but in reality he was just making fun of them.