William Hogarth (10 November 1697 – 26 October 1764) was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects”. Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as “Hogarthian.”
William Hogarth was born at Bartholomew Close in London to Richard Hogarth, a poor Latin school teacher and textbook writer, and Anne Gibbons. In his youth he was apprenticed to the engraver Ellis Gamble in Leicester Fields, where he learned to engrave trade cards and similar products. Young Hogarth also took a lively interest in the street life of the metropolis and the London fairs, and amused himself by sketching the characters he saw. Around the same time, his father, who had opened an unsuccessful Latin-speaking coffee house at St John’s Gate, was imprisoned for debt in Fleet Prison for five years. Hogarth never spoke of his father’s imprisonment.
He became a member of the Rose and Crown Club, with Peter Tillemans, George Vertue, Michael Dahl, and other artists and connoisseurs.
By April 1720 Hogarth was an engraver in his own right, at first engraving coats of arms, shop bills, and designing plates for booksellers.
In 1727, he was hired by Joshua Morris, a tapestry worker, to prepare a design for the Element of Earth. Morris heard that he was “an engraver, and no painter”, and consequently declined the work when completed. Hogarth accordingly sued him for the money in the Westminster Court, where the case was decided in his favour on 28 May 1728. In 1757 he was appointed Serjeant Painter to the King.
Early satirical works included an Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme (c.1721), about the disastrous stock market crash of 1720 known as the South Sea Bubble, in which many English people lost a great deal of money. In the bottom left corner, he shows Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish figures gambling, while in the middle there is a huge machine, like a merry-go-round, which people are boarding. At the top is a goat, written below which is “Who’l Ride”. The people are scattered around the picture with a sense of disorder, while the progress of the well dressed people towards the ride in the middle shows the foolishness of the crowd in buying stock in the South Sea Company, which spent more time issuing stock than anything else.
Other early works include The Lottery (1724); The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by the Gormogons (1724); A Just View of the British Stage (1724); some book illustrations; and the small print, Masquerades and Operas (1724). The latter is a satire on contemporary follies, such as the masquerades of the Swiss impresario John James Heidegger, the popular Italian opera singers, John Rich’s pantomimes at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the exaggerated popularity of Lord Burlington’s protégé, the architect and painter William Kent. He continued that theme in 1727, with the Large Masquerade Ticket. In 1726 Hogarth prepared twelve large engravings for Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. These he himself valued highly, and are among his best book illustrations.
In the following years he turned his attention to the production of small “conversation pieces” (i.e., groups in oil of full-length portraits from 12 to 15 in. high). Among his efforts in oil between 1728 and 1732 were The Fountaine Family (c.1730), The Assembly at Wanstead House, The House of Commons examining Bambridge, and several pictures of the chief actors in John Gay’s popular The Beggar’s Opera.
In 1731, he completed the earliest of the series of moral works which first gave him recognition as a great and original genius. This was A Harlot’s Progress, first as paintings, (now lost), and then published as engravings. In its six scenes, the miserable fate of a country girl who began a prostitution career in town is traced out remorselessly from its starting point, the meeting of a bawd, to its shameful and degraded end, the whore’s death of venereal disease and the following merciless funeral ceremony. The series was an immediate success, and was followed in 1735 by the sequel A Rake’s Progress showing in eight pictures the reckless life of Tom Rakewell, the son of a rich merchant, who wastes all his money on luxurious living, whoring, and gambling, and ultimately finishes his life in Bedlam. The original paintings of A Harlot’s Progress were destroyed in the fire at Fonthill Abbey in 1755; A Rake’s Progress is displayed in the gallery room at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.
In 1743–1745 Hogarth painted the six pictures of Marriage à-la-mode (National Gallery, London), a pointed skewering of upper class 18th century society. This moralistic warning shows the miserable tragedy of an ill-considered marriage for money. This is regarded by many as his finest project and may be among his best planned story serials.
Marital ethics were the topic of much debate in 18th century Britain. Frequent marriages of convenience and their attendant unhappiness came in for particular criticism, with a variety of authors taking the view that love was a much sounder basis for marriage. Hogarth here painted a satire – a genre that by definition has a moral point to convey – of a conventional marriage within the English upper class. All the paintings were engraved and the series achieved wide circulation in print form. The series, which are set in a Classical interior, shows the story of the fashionable marriage of the son of bankrupt Earl Squanderfield to the daughter of a wealthy but miserly city merchant, starting with the signing of a marriage contract at the Earl’s mansion and ending with the murder of the son by his wife’s lover and the suicide of the daughter after her lover is hanged at Tyburn for murdering her husband.
William Makepeace Thackeray wrote:
This famous set of pictures contains the most important and highly wrought of the Hogarth comedies. The care and method with which the moral grounds of these pictures are laid is as remarkable as the wit and skill of the observing and dexterous artist. He has to describe the negotiations for a marriage pending between the daughter of a rich citizen Alderman and young Lord Viscount Squanderfield, the dissipated son of a gouty old Earl … The dismal end is known. My lord draws upon the counselor, who kills him, and is apprehended while endeavouring to escape. My lady goes back perforce to the Alderman of the City, and faints upon reading Counsellor Silvertongue’s dying speech at Tyburn (place of execution in old London), where the counselor has been executed for sending his lordship out of the world. Moral: don’t listen to evil silver-tongued counselors; don’t marry a man for his rank, or a woman for her money; don’t frequent foolish auctions and masquerade balls unknown to your husband; don’t have wicked companions abroad and neglect your wife, otherwise you will be run through the body, and ruin will ensue, and disgrace, and Tyburn.
Hogarth’s work were a direct influence on John Collier, who was known as the “Lancashire Hogarth”. The spread of Hogarth’s prints throughout Europe, together with the depiction of popular scenes from his prints in faked Hogarth prints, influenced Continental book illustration through the 18th and early 19th century, especially in Germany and France. He also influenced many caricaturists of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hogarth’s influence lives on today as artists continue to draw inspiration from the artist.
Hogarth’s paintings and prints have provided the subject matter for several other works. For example, Gavin Gordon’s 1935 ballet The Rake’s Progress, to choreography by Ninette de Valois, was based directly on Hogarth’s series of paintings of that title. Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera The Rake’s Progress, with libretto by W. H. Auden, was less literally inspired by the same series. Russell Banks’ short story “Indisposed” is a fictional account of Hogarth’s infidelity as told from the viewpoint of his wife, Jane. Hogarth’s engravings also inspired the BBC radio play “The Midnight House” by Jonathan Hall, based on the M.R. James ghost story “The Mezzotint” and first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2006.
Hogarth’s House in Chiswick, west London, is now a museum; it abuts one of London’s best known road junctions – the Hogarth Roundabout.
Hogarth is played by Toby Jones in the 2006 television film A Harlot’s Progress.
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