By indexer
2 years ago

William Hogarth: 18th century artist

Many Londoners know the name “Hogarth” very well, but could tell you nothing about the man behind it. That is because the house in which the painter and engraver William Hogarth lived his last years is close to a busy road junction on the main route to the West, and the “Hogarth Roundabout” is a frequent scene of traffic tailbacks. At the time he lived there this was a quiet rural retreat, well removed from the bustle of the City, but now the traffic rumbles past his garden wall, day and night. The contrast between then and now would doubtless have appealed to Hogarth, who spent most of his professional life pointing out contrasts to his contemporaries.

He was born in Smithfield, London, on 10 November 1697, the eldest of three children of Richard Hogarth, a schoolmaster and writer, and his wife Anne. Richard had ambitions as a publisher of Latin and Greek textbooks, but he was largely unsuccessful at this and spent some time in the Fleet prison for debt. He died in poverty in 1718, this denying William any chance of a career in the professions.

William therefore became apprenticed to a silversmith for six years. However, he abandoned silver for copper on completing his apprenticeship, and set up his own copper-engraving business in 1720, producing business cards, funeral tickets and similar products for several years. However, he also started to work on more creative projects in the form of detailed prints of many-peopled scenes. His first major project was a set of twelve large plates to illustrate “Hudibras”, a mock-heroic poem by Samuel Butler.

He also had ambitions as a painter, and in 1724 he enrolled at a painting and drawing school run by the painter Sir James Thornhill, whom Hogarth greatly admired. He learned quickly, and was producing work of high quality within a few years. He also allied himself to Thornhill, and gained entry to his social circle, by marrying his daughter in 1729.

It is probably through Thornhill’s influence that Hogarth was commissioned to paint a group portrait of a Parliamentary inquiry into prison conditions in 1729 (Thornhill was also a Member of Parliament) and this led to further commissions. However, political patronage had its drawbacks, in that political opponents of Thornhill made it difficult for Hogarth to obtain some particularly attractive commissions, for example for the Royal Family.

Hogarth soon tired of painting portraits of the “great and the good” and began to experiment with another genre, namely that of humorous satirical scenes. He painted a picture of a Drury Lane harlot, which was seen by visitors to his studio who suggested that he paint another. This he did, and then he had other ideas for the subject and ended up with a series of six, showing the same character in different scenes.

He then turned to engraving his scenes and presenting them as a set of pictorial narratives to tell a moral story. He had therefore invented the comic strip. The six scenes became “A Harlot’s Progress”, showing how a young country girl arrives in town, is seduced, becomes a prostitute and dies of syphilis, the final scene being of her funeral. The scenes bore no text, other than on labels, book covers and the like, but contained a wealth of detail that satirised anyone guilty, in Hogarth’s eyes, of hypocrisy or double-dealing. The pictures tell the story; you do not see a Hogarth engraving, you read it.

The series was published in 1732 and was phenomenally successful. Within a year he had received more than 1,400 orders for prints. The “Progress” made him famous and rich.

His second series was to do even better. “A Rake’s Progress”, a series of eight scenes, started as a set of paintings completed in 1734, but Hogarth delayed publication of the engraved prints so that he could protect his copyright. He used his friends in high places to pilot an Act of Parliament that would ensure that the copyright in engravings rested with the artist rather than the publishers, and that unauthorised copying was forbidden for 14 years. The Act, which became known as Hogarth’s Act, was passed in June 1735 and “A Rake’s Progress” was published soon afterwards.

The subject is a man who inherits a fortune, sends away his pregnant fiancée, and associates with a range of social hangers-on whose only aim is to deprive him of his wealth as quickly as possible. His attempts to regain his fortune through marrying an heiress, and gambling, end in failure, and only his abandoned fiancée mourns his eventual passing in a lunatic asylum.

However, Hogarth’s fortunes were now going in the opposite direction to those of his “rake”. He agreed to produce two huge wall-paintings at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, free of charge as an act of charity but also to settle an old score with a rival who had offended Hogarth’s patron and father-in-law, Sir James Thornhill, who had just died. The paintings were on Biblical subjects, and in a medium with which Hogarth was unfamiliar. As works of art they were only a moderate success.

Moving back to familiar territory, Hogarth produced “Southwark Fair” as a single painting and engraving, and a set of four “Times of Day”, showing street scenes in different parts of London. All of these are richly detailed and depict contrasts between order and chaos.

Hogarth now turned his attention once again to portraiture, and was not short of commissions. Notable ones include those of Captain Coram, of the Foundling Hospital, and “David Garrick as Richard III”. He also began to see himself as a spokesman for British art, defending his countrymen against what he saw as an unwelcome influx of works of art from the continent.

In 1743 Hogarth produced a new “moral series” in “Marriage a-la-mode”, six paintings and engravings (although he did not engrave these himself) that satirise the buying of social advancement, and the solving of debt problems, through marriage. An impoverished earl’s son marries a social-climbing merchant’s daughter, but the loveless marriage ends in disaster for both of them, caused in part by their own foolishness.

“Industry and Idleness”, a set of twelve engravings based on drawings, followed in 1747, and were designed to encourage apprentices to work hard.

In 1751 he published two of his best-known engravings, “Gin Lane” and “Beer Alley”, to bring to public attention the scandalous level of alcohol abuse among the poor. Gin was cheap and plentiful, and a quick route to oblivion for people who wanted to escape the daily grind. Beer, however, was seen as a more wholesome drink. Hogarth therefore portrays a gin-sodden mother letting her baby fall from her breast to the ground, whereas the beer drinkers are prosperous, bluff and hearty.

He touched on subjects that were more directly political with some of his next works, such as “O The Roast Beef of Old England” (1748), which owes much to English attitudes towards the French and Jacobites, and the “Election” series (engraved 1754-8) that portrays the corrupt practices that were common in pre-Reform Bill England.

Despite his general popularity, Hogarth was not without his critics. The criticism was largely directed at his attempt to produce a theory of art in his 153-page volume “The Analysis of Beauty”, published in 1753. Hogarth called for an empirical and naturalistic approach to art, whereas many of his contemporaries took a more idealistic line and, to Hogarth, resorted to artificiality in their work. Hogarth was up against artists such as Joshua Reynolds, who championed the continental, especially Italian, school of art.

In his later years, Hogarth found himself at odds with the artistic and political establishment. A commission that went wrong, when a painting was rejected by its commissioner, led to Hogarth’s mental state coming under threat. He was also involved in the rivalry between the similar-sounding Society of Artists and Society of Arts, the former of which he supported. As ever, it was impossible to make friends in the artistic world without also making enemies.

Politically, Hogarth was on the Royalist side and opposed to the pro-war stance of Pitt (the elder) and John Wilkes, with whom he was otherwise friendly. In 1762 he issued a print called “The Times” which showed Pitt fanning the flames of war and the government trying to put them out. This led to a breach with Wilkes and a vitriolic attack by the latter (in his radical journal “The North Briton”) in which Hogarth was accused of vanity, self-seeking, and lack of respect for his fellow artists. The following year, Wilkes was arrested for a supposed seditious libel against the King, and Hogarth took his revenge by attending the hearing (at which Wilkes was acquitted) and drawing a caricature of him.

Hogarth was by now a sick man, and the criticisms by Wilkes and other former friends did nothing to improve either his health or his mood. He spent his last months working on his autobiography, and died on 26th October 1764 at the age of 66.

William Hogarth was a strange mix in many ways. His engravings portray humour, pathos, coarseness and subtlety in even measures. He was both an insider, being closely associated with the leaders of the government, and an outsider in that he was horrified at the practices of the high and mighty in society.

That he was hugely influential there can be no doubt. The satirical caricatures of Cruikshank and Gillray, and indeed of the newspaper cartoonists of the present day, owe a huge amount to Hogarth, as do the penned caricatures of writers such as Charles Dickens, who was an avowed admirer of Hogarth’s work. A visit to Hogarth’s House in Chiswick, West London, where prints of his work adorn the walls throughout, is well worth making.

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Faith Good article..👌
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soncee Lovely painting
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OlgaLifeLover do you live in Londen?
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RasmaSandra Thank you for the introduction to Hogarth. A most interesting artist.
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