This memorable performance, which involved Hogarth in serious difficulties, and eventually contributed to shorten his life, has been severely censured both by Mr. Walpole and Mr. Steevens. But, not to enlarge on such unpleasant reflections, our worthy Artist shall tell his own story. After mentioning a Picture which he had finished much to the satisfaction of Lord Charlemont, he says, "A Gentleman (now a Nobleman) seeing this Picture, pressed me with great vehemence to paint another for him on the same terms. To this I relunctantly assented J and, as I have been frequently flattered for my power of giving expression, I thought the figure of Sigismunda weeping over the heart of her lover, would enable me to display it. Impressed with that idea, I fixed upon this very difficult subject. My object was dramatic; and my aim, to draw tears from the spectator, an effect I have often witnessed at a Tragedy; and it therefore struck me that it was worth trying if a Painter could not produce the same effect, and touch the heart through the eye, as the Player does through the ear. Thus far I have been gratified. I have more than once seen the tear of sympathy trickle down the cheek of a Female, while she has been contemplating the Picture. As four hundred pounds had a short time before been bid for a Picture of Sigismunda, painted by a French master, but falsely ascribed to Corregio, four hundred pounds was the price at which I rated this. By any of my other pursuits I could have got twice the sum in the time I devoted to it; nor was it more than half what a fashionable Face-painter would have gained in the same period. Upon these grounds I put it at this sum. It ended by my keeping the Picture in my painting-room, and his Lordship keeping his money in his pocket."
The Picture was painted at the earnest request of Sir Richard (afterwards Lord) Grosvenor, in 1759, at a time when Hogarth had "fully determined to leave off painting, partly for the sake of ease and retirement, but more particularly because he had found, by thirty years experience, that his Pictures, except in an instance or two, had not produced him one quarter of the profit that arose from his engravings."
After an unpleasant correspondence with Sir Richard Grosvenor, Hogarth, to vindicate his fame, determined to have the Picture engraved; and, Mr. Ravenet undertaking it, a subscription for the Print was begun, March 2, 1761; but some time afterwards, finding that Ravenet was under articles not to work for any one except Mr. Boydell for three years then to come, the subscription was stopped, and the money returned to the subscribers, there being no other Engraver at leisure capable of doing it as it should be done. Whilst the subscription remained open, the Picture was first put into the hands of the late Mr. Grignion, who made an etching of it; but, as it did not answer the expectations of Hogarth, the Plate was with- drawn, and the late Mr. Basire was employed. By that very able Artist the Plate was attempted after the manner of Edelinch; and the outlines in general, and particularly of the face, were completed under the immediate direction of Mr. Hogarth; but the Plate still remains in its unfinished state in the possession of Mr. Basire's son.
January 2, 1764, our Artist adds, "All efforts at this time to get the Picture finely engraved proving in vain, Mr. Hogarth humbly hopes his best endeavours to engrave it himself will be acceptable to his Friends." This intention was frustrated by his severe illness, and consequent death, on the 26th of October in the same year. But he directed that Sigismunda should not be sold for less than £500, and with this injunction his Widow punctually complied. She died in 1789; and, at the sale of her effects, in 1790, the Picture was bought by Mr. Boydell for 56 guineas, and an Engraving from it by B. Smith was published in 1795.
The Painting, which afterwards formed one of the prizes in the Shakspeare Lottery, was sold by Mr. Christie in 1807 for 400 guineas; and was exhibited in the British Gallery in 1814, being then the property of J. H. Anderdon, Esq.