William Hogarth (November 10, 1697 - October 26, 1764) was a major English painter, engraver, and pictorial satirist who has been credited as a pioneer in western sequential art. His work ranged from excellent realistic portraiture to Comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects.” Much of his work humorously and sometimes viciously poked fun at contemporary politics and customs.
The son of a poor schoolteacher and textbook writer, William Hogarth was born at Bartholomew Close in London on November 10, 1697. In his youth he was apprenticed to the silver-plate engraver Ellis Gamble in Leicester Fields, where he learned to engrave shopcards and the like. Young William 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. At 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 talked about the fact. By April 1720 he was engraver on his own account, at first engraving coats of arms, shop bills, and designing plates for booksellers. Early satirical works included an Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme (c.1721); 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 last not least, the exaggerated popularity of Lord Burlington's protégé, the architect and painter William Kent. 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 1727-1728 he was hired by Joshua Morris, a tapestry worker, to prepare a design for the Element of Earth. Morris, however, having heard that he was "an engraver, and no painter," declined the work when completed, and Hogarth accordingly sued him for the money in the Westminster Court, where, on the 28th of May 1728, the case was decided in Hogarth's favour. 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. One of his masterpieces of this period is the depiction of an amateur performance of John Dryden's The Indian Emperor, or The Conquest of Mexico (1732-1735) at the home of John Conduitt, master of the mint, in St George's Street, Hanover Square.
Notable engravings between 1726 and 1732 are the Large Masquerade Ticket (1727), another satire on masquerades, and possibly the print of Burlington Gate (1731), evoked by Alexander Pope's Epistle to Lord Burlington, and defending Lord Chandos, who is therein satirized. This print gave great offence, and was suppressed. (However, it is no longer attributed to Hogarth by some modern authorities.)
Hogarth lived in an age, when artwork became immensely commercialized, something no longer just exhibited in churches and the homes of connoisseurs, but viewed in shopwindows, taverns and public buildings and sold in printshops. Old hierarchies broke down, and new forms began to flourish: the ballad opera, the bourgeois tragedy, and especially, a new form of fiction called the novel with which authors such as Henry Fielding had great success. Therefore, by that time, Hogarth hit on a new idea: "painting and engraving modern moral subjects ... to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture was my stage," as he himself remarked in his manuscript notes. To be sure, there were earlier artists that had depicted ordinary life, but Hogarth's moralizing was indeed revolutionary. In 1731 he completed the earliest of the series of moral works which first gave him his position 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 ceremonial. 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.
William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress, Plate 8
Hogarth's other prints in the 1730s include A Midnight Modern Conversation (1733), Southwark Fair (1733), The Sleeping Congregation (1736), Before and After (1736), Scholars at a Lecture (1736), The Company of Undertakers (Consultation of Quacks) (1736), The Distrest Poet (1736), The Four Times of the Day (1738), and Strolling Actresses dressing in a Barn (1738).
In 1743-1745 Hogarth painted his six pictures of Marriage A-la-Mode (National Gallery, London), an accurate delineation of upper class 18th century society showing the miserable tragedy of an ill-assorted marriage. This is regarded by many as his finest series. In 1746 he painted actor David Garrick as Richard III, for which he was paid £200, “which was more,” he wrote, “than any English artist ever received for a single portrait.” In the same year a sketch of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, afterwards beheaded on Tower Hill, had an exceptional success.
Notable Hogarth engravings in the 1740s included The Enraged Musician (1741), the six prints of Marriage A-la-Mode (1745; executed by French artists under Hogarth's inspection), The Stage Coach or The Country Inn Yard (1747), the twelve prints of Industry and Idleness (1747), and The Gate of Calais (1749). The latter was produced soon after his return from a visit to France. Horace Walpole wrote that Hogarth had run a great risk to go there since the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle,
he went to France, and was so imprudent as to be taking a sketch of the drawbridge at Calais. He was seized and carried to the governor, where he was forced to prove his vocation by producing several caricatures of the French; particularly a scene of the shore, with an immense piece of beef landing for the lion d'argent, the English inn at Calais, and several hungry friars following it. They were much diverted with his drawings, and dismissed him.Back home, he immediately executed a painting of the subject (1748; now in Tate Britain), in which he unkindly represented his enemies, the Frenchmen, as cringing, emaciated and superstitious people, while the enormous sirloin of beef arrives, destined for the said inn as a symbol of English prosperity and superiority.
In 1745 Hogarth painted a self-portrait with his dog (now also in Tate Britain), which shows him as a learned artist supported by volumes of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift. In 1749, he represented the somewhat disorderly English troops on their March to Finchley (formerly Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now Foundling Museum). Later important prints include his pictorial warning of the unpleasant consequences of alcoholism in Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751); his outcry against inhumanity in The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751); his satire on canvassing in his Election series (1755-1758); his ridicule of the English passion for cockfighting in The Cockpit (1759); his attack on Methodism in Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism (1762); his political anti-war satire in The Times, plate I (1762); and his pessimistic view of all things in Tailpiece, or The Bathos (1764).
During a long period of his life, Hogarth tried to achieve the status of history painter, but had no great success in this field. Examples of his history pictures are the two Biblical subjects (The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan) executed in 1736-1737 for St Bartholomew's Hospital; Moses brought before Pharaoh's Daughter painted for the Foundling Hospital (1747; formerly at the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now in the Foundling Museum); Paul before Felix (1748) at Lincoln's Inn; and his altarpiece for St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol (1756). In 1757, however, he was appointed Serjeant Painter to the King. He was also a popular portrait painter. His truthful, vivid full-length portrait of his friend, the philanthropic Captain Coram (1740; formerly Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now Foundling Museum), and his unfinished oil sketch of a Shrimp Girl (National Gallery, London) may be called masterpieces of British painting.
When analyzing the work of the artist as a whole, Ronald Paulson, the modern authority on Hogarth, sees an accomplished parodist at work, and a subversive. He says, "In A Harlot's Progress, every single plate but one is based on Dürer's images of the story of the Virgin and the story of the Passion." In other works, he parodies Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. According to Paulson, Hogarth is subverting the religious establishment and the orthodox belief in an immanent God who intervenes in the lives of people and produces miracles. Indeed, Hogarth was a Deist, a believer in a God who created the universe but takes no direct hand in the lives of his creations. Thus, as a "comic history painter", he often poked fun at the old-fashioned, "beaten" subjects of religious art in his paintings and prints. Hogarth also rejected Lord Shaftesbury's then current ideal of the classical Greek male in favor of the living, breathing female. He said, "Who but a bigot, even to the antiques, will say that he has not seen faces and necks, hands and arms in living women, that even the Grecian Venus doth but coarsely imitate."
Hogarth also wrote and published his ideas of artistic design in his book The Analysis of Beauty (1753). In it, he professes to define the principles of beauty and grace which he, a real child of Rococo, saw realized in serpentine lines.
His satirical engravings are often considered an important ancestor of the Comic strip. Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress, with libretto by W. H. Auden, was inspired by Hogarth's series of paintings of that title.
See also: English school of painting