Rake's Progress

BedlamThis autumn, for the first time ever, all three versions of William Hogarth's “Rake’s Progress” (the original artwork, Stravinsky's opera and prints by David Hockney) will be on full display at CU Boulder, thanks to a special collaboration among the CU-Boulder's Center for British and Irish Studies, CU Art Museum, College of Music, CU Opera, and the English and Art Departments of the College of Arts and Sciences. The chance to compare all three “Rakes” nearly at once will mark more than just a special event for Colorado museum and opera goers: it promises to be an exhilarating, even transformative, experience.

The “Rake” was one of the works that raised Hogarth to the standing of a master, but his successors were just as important to the history of art and opera. Auden and Kallman recast a tale about 18th century morality into a libretto now widely recognized  as one of the finest of the 20th century. Stravinsky, who was the first to be particularly inspired by Hogarth’s “visual theater,” composed what has since been heralded as a masterpiece, even though it was the only opera he ever penned. Hockney, one of the greatest postmodern spirits of our time (who actually served for a time on the CU faculty), went perhaps the furthest in meeting the Hogarthian challenge.  Hockney, as he noted, entered a new life when he completed the series. The artist, as it turns out, had just sold his first prints in America at the time. With that money he bought a new suit, bleached his hair, celebrated with new friends in New York’s gay bars. Whether he knew it or not, he would soon become a pivotal figure in a movement that would change forever the world of art.

Visual Art

In 1735 the English artist William Hogarth produced “A Rake’s Progress,” the second of a series of printed engravings based on what the artist himself called “modern moral subjects.” Hogarth’s story focused on a lusty rogue, aptly named “Rakewell,” who,  after spending all his inherited money on clothes, women, and drink, ends up in London’s notorious “Bedlam” lunatic asylum.

Similarly inspired, the English artist David Hockney (b. 1937) produced another set of prints based on Hogarth’s series, which retained the main title as well as some of the titles of Hogarth’s individual prints. Hockney would later design costumes and sets for the Stravinsky opera.

The CU Art Museum presents Hockney and Hogarth: Selections from the CU Art Museum's Collection of British Art (curated by Lisa Tamiris Becker and Catherine Labio) September 7 – October 27. The exhibition builds on the remarkable strengths of the CU Art Museum’s collection of British art and features David Hockney’s first major print series, A Rake’s Progress (1961-­-63), alongside the 1735 series by William Hogarth that inspired it. A large selection of additional works from the 119 William Hogarth engravings included in the CU Art Museum’s permanent collection are also on view. For more information visit www.colorado.edu/cuartmuseum

See a full gallery of images from the show


In 1947 the Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky saw the prints on display in Chicago and enlisted the English writer W. H. Auden and the American Chester Kallman to compose a libretto based on the series. CU Opera presents Stravinsky's 1951 masterwork "The Rake's Progress" October 26 & 28 in Macky Auditorium under the direction of Leigh Holman and Conductor Nicholas Carthy. For more information visit cupresents.org (link)


The Rake's Progress: Stravinsky, Hogarth, Hockney, Auden, and Kallman is a multidisciplinary conference hosted by the Center for British and Irish Studies, the CU Art Museum, and the College of Music. The conference will take place October 26-27, 2012 in the British and Irish Studies Room in Norlin Library (5th floor, room M549). For details about scheduled events, see the conference schedule (http://www.colorado.edu/ArtsSciences/british/rake/index.html#schedule)


See all Rake's Progress events

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