The special talent of William Hogarth (1697-1764) for satirizing human folly brought him commercial success in his lifetime and a popularity that endures today. Hogarth painted Midnight Modern Conversation in 1730, and published the print in 1732/33. It has been called his most widely disseminated work (rivalled only by Marriage /ga la Mode); the last copies made from his original plates were printed in 1822. St. John's Coffeehouse was in Shire Lane, Temple Bar, near the Law Courts of London, and Hogarth's intent was clearly to lampoon the behaviour of prominent lawyers and businessmen of his day. Contemporary observers were able to identify several of the figures in the scene, which was accompanied by this inscription:
Think not to find one meant/Resemblance there/We lash the Vices but the Persons/spare -/Prints should be prized as Authors/should be read/Who sharply smile prevailing Folly dead
Midnight Modern Conversation was an immediate success and soon found its way onto English and then Dutch and German ceramics. As Hogarth's later work O The Roast Beef of Old England or The Gate of Calais eventually made its way to China to be copied onto magnificent special order bowls so, too, did Midnight Modern Conversation. Only one other Chinese piece with this subject is known, a punchbowl ordered by a Danish sea captain, decorated on its other side with a Danish East Indiaman. (See J. Huitfeldt, Ostindisk porselen i Norge, Olso, 1993, pp. 42, 72, 73). The story of the present punchbowl's commission remains unknown, as does the origin of its Chinese scene, which seems both to claim superiority to the sybarites opposite and also, in the person of its one intemperant, to subtly underscore their common humanity.