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The Philadelphia Print Shop

Diligence & Dissipation, Plate 1Diligence & Dissipation, Plate 10

Prints after James Northcote


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After James Northcote. Diligence and Dissipation. London: T. Gaugain, 1796-97. All approximately 18 1/2 x 21 1/4 (plate marks). Engraved by Gaugain & Hellyear. Some minor tears in margins, but all professionally repaired. Otherwise, very good condition.

A beautifully engraved set of prints that visually preach the virtue of living a moral life and the ramifications if one does not. This set of prints depicts the lives of two servant girls, the "Good or Modest" girl and the "Wanton" girl. Both live and work in the same house. The good girl is diligent in her work and is chaste, whereas her coworker neglects her duties and is not a virtuous woman. The wanton is eventually thrown out into the street, pregnant, only to die in poverty. The good girl eventually marries her master to become the mistress of the house. Basically, the message of this set of prints presents is that good behavior and diligence in one's work will lead to great rewards. Otherwise, the only other consideration is ruin from immorality.

These prints are after paintings by James Northcote (1746-1831), an English painter and writer. He was largely self-taught before his arrival in London in 1771, when he entered the Royal Academy Schools and joined Joshua Reynolds as a pupil and assistant, remaining with Reynolds until 1776. From 1773 to 1776 he exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy. For much of Northcote's career his paintings depended heavily on Reynolds' style. He considered himself something of an authority on Reynolds and published his valuable Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1813, the year of the Reynolds exhibition at the British Institution.

French engraver and print-publisher, Thomas Gaugain (1756-1812) was active mostly in England. He entered the Royal Academy Schools, London, in 1771, with the aim of becoming a painter; he exhibited in 1778-81 at the Royal Academy. In 1780 he began to engrave, initially engraving and publishing his own prints. Some color prints that he published were among the few English ones printed from several plates, rather than à la poupée. Eventually, Gaugain built up a successful business, but the decline in the export trade probably affected Gaugain more than most print-publishers, as in 1793 his stock of plates were auctioned off. He continued to engrave, and his most notable project was this ambitious Hogarthian set of Diligence and Dissipation after ten pictures exhibited in 1796 by James Northcote.

These are splendid prints with much detail on decorative art, costume, social history and human behavior. Unfortunately one of the prints was missing when we purchased the set, otherwise we would have sold the complete portfolio. Each one stands as its own work of art.


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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated December 3, 2011