This painting is actually in an exhibition at Bristol City Museum, for more info.
Why The Gate of Calais? The painting ( le tableau) depicts a scene in Calais where Hogarth stopped on his way back from a visit in France. He was drawing the arms of England on the old gate when he was arrested as a spy ( un espion).
Martine, one of the French tutors at Alliance Française de Bristol went to see it, below is what she thought:
When I first saw this painting I thought it looked like a stage at the theatre with all the elements of a very busyset. What attracted my attention straightaway, was the roast beef, obviously as it is right in the middle of the picture, a mouth watering juicy piece of beef which Hogarth must have been craving for as it seems, that, in France, according to the painting, you can only be fed on watery soup if at all.
From a French perspective, a few centuries on, this is amusing as the roast beef is a cliché and has a different meaning, if somewhat not very politically correct! The English can still be called “ les Rosbifs” ( the Roast beefs). It is the equivalent of the Frogs ( les Grenouilles) when talking of the French. Some French people still believe that the English boil the beef, it is therefore tasteless and hard, not at all as it appears on the painting.
The fine looking, well-dressed English soldier has evidently eaten plenty of nutritious roast beef- contrasting with the French soldiers whose diet is this disgusting looking soup, making them weak and feeble, while we think that we have the best food in the world! Hogarth may be saying that the French King is not looking after his soldiers, not like the English King! And what about the fat French Catholic priest? The roast beef won’t be for him this time, but he is not starved, not like the poor people crouching in the bottom left of the painting; the Catholic church is not doing much for them, according to Hogarth.
Is this painting a social statement or is Hogarth annoyed by the way he has been treated in France and rather homesick so exaggerating somewhat?
I haven’t got the answer but, in any case, it seems that clichés existed already!
What are the most common clichés towards the French from an English point of view and vice versa? Read about them next week…
In the meantime, do you know that you can already register for our French regular classes starting in Bristol and Bath this September. For more info…