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. 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.
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.
Hogarth’s other works 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). He may also have printed 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 (some modern authorities no longer attribute this to Hogarth).
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, 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, certainly the best piece of his serially-planned story cycles.
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.
In the twelve prints of Industry and Idleness (1747) Hogarth shows the progression in the lives of two apprentices, one of whom is dedicated and hard working, the other idle which leads to crime and his execution. This shows the work ethic of Protestant England, where those who work hard get rewarded, such as the industrious apprentice who becomes Sheriff (plate 8), Alderman (plate 10), and finally the Lord Mayor of London in the last plate in the series. The idle apprentice, who begins with being “at play in the church yard” (plate 3), holes up “in a Garrett with a Common Prostitute” after turning highwayman (plate 7) and “executed at Tyburn” (plate 11). The idle apprentice is sent to the gallows by the industrious apprentice himself.
Later important prints include his pictorial warning of the unpleasant consequences of alcoholism in Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751) Hogarth engraved Beer Street to show a happy city drinking the ‘good’ beverage of English beer, versus Gin Lane which showed the effects of drinking gin which, as a harder liquor, caused more problems for society. People are shown as healthy, happy and prosperous in Beer Street, while in Gin Lane they are scrawny, lazy and careless. The woman at the front of Gin Lane who lets her baby fall to its death, echoes the tale of Judith Dufour who strangled her baby so she could sell its clothes for gin money. The prints were published in support of what would become the Gin Act 1751.
Other prints were his outcry against inhumanity in The Four Stages of Cruelty (published 21 February 1751), in which Hogarth depicts the cruel treatment of animals which he saw around him, and suggests what will happen to people who carry on in this manner. In the first picture there are scenes of torture of dogs, cats and other animals. The second shows one of the characters from the first painting, Tom Nero, has now become a coach driver, and his cruelty to his horse has caused it to break its leg. In the third painting Tom is shown as a murderer, with the woman he killed lying on the ground, while in the fourth, titled Reward of Cruelty, the murderer is shown being dissected by scientists after his execution. The method of execution, and the dissection, reflect the 1752 Act of Parliament allowing for the dissection of executed criminals who had been convicted for murder.
Hogarth was also a popular portrait painter. 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, 11th Lord Lovat, afterwards beheaded on Tower Hill, had an exceptional success. Hogarth’s truthful, vivid full-length portrait of his friend, the philanthropic Captain Coram (1740) and his unfinished oil sketch of The Shrimp Girl (National Gallery, London) may be called masterpieces of British painting.
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 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).
The Gate of Calais (1748; now in Tate Britain) was produced soon after his return from a visit to France.
Back home, he immediately executed a painting of the subject in which he unkindly represented his enemies, the Frenchmen, as cringing, emaciated and superstitious people, while an enormous sirloin of beef arrives, destined for the English inn as a symbol of British prosperity and superiority. He claimed to have painted himself into the picture in the left corner sketching the gate, with a “soldier’s hand upon my shoulder”, running him in.
Notable Hogarth engravings in the 1740s include The Enraged Musician (1741), the six prints of Marriage à-la-mode (1745) and The Stage Coach or The Country Inn Yard (1747).
In 1745 Hogarth painted a self-portrait with his pug dog, 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 of the Guards to Finchley.
Others were his ingenious Satire on False Perspective (1753); 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).
Hogarth 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 (the Line of Beauty).
Hogarth lived in an age when artwork became increasingly commercialized and viewed in shop windows, 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.
He drew from the highly moralizing Protestant tradition of Dutch genre painting, and the very vigorous satirical traditions of the English broadsheet and other types of popular print. In England the fine arts had little comedy in them before Hogarth. His prints were expensive, and remained so until early 19th-century reprints brought them to a wider audience.