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William Hogarth

English, 1697 - 1764

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Born in Bartholomew Close near Smithfield Market in London on November 10, 1697, William Hogarth spent the formative years of his childhood in the shadow of the Fleet Prison where his father, a Latin scholar and author from the North Country whose attempt to keep a coffeehouse in London ended in financial ruin, had been committed for debt "within the rules" from 1708 to 1712. Like Charles Dickens, the experience of seeing his father in debtor's prison scared the young Hogarth's heart; no other artist painted prisons--the Fleet, Newgate, Bridewell, or the madhouse Bedlam--so frequently or with such ferocious realism; like Dickens, Hogarth's early poverty contributed to later unrelenting efforts to achieve financial security through popular success; and like Dickens, Hogarth's greatest theme is the teeming, various life within the city of London.

After 1708 Hogarth's mother was reduced to selling homemade tonics; thus any education the boy had received probably terminated about the age of eleven when he was needed around the house or to bring in extra money. In these years he felt the first stirrings of artistic impulse in his love both for theatrical performances and for drawing pictures: "I had naturally a good eye [and] shews of all sort gave me uncommon pleasure when an Infant and mimickry common to all children was remarkable in me. an early access to a neighbouring Painter drew my attention from play [and] evry opportunity was employed in attempt at drawing."1

In 1714, the year George I ascended the throne, William was apprenticed to a silversmith, Ellis Gamble of Blue Cross Street in Leicester Fields, who taught him how to engrave onto metal small heraldic designs, ornaments, and beasts. But as an engraver of silverplate William was bored: "The Narrowness of this business I determind [should be followed] no larger [longer] than necessity obliged me to it."2 By 1720 he had set up on his own as an engraver of shop cards and bookplates. At the same time he was among the first subscribers to a new academy of art run by Louis Chéron (1660-c. 1715) and John Vanderbank (1694-1739) off St. Martin's Lane, where his fellow pupils included Joseph Highmore (1692-1780), Arthur Pond (c. 1705-1718), and William Kent (1685-1748). What he learned there was not, apparently, the traditional academic method of drawing from casts, from life, and copying old masters; rather, Hogarth developed a system of "visual mnemonics," the fixing of images in the mind to be drawn later in the studio: "Instead of burthening the memory with musty rules, or tiring the eyes with copying dry and damaged pictures, I have ever found studying from nature, the shortest and safest way of attaining knowledge in my art."3

By 1723 Hogarth was no longer a tradesman but had taken up political and social caricature and book illustration. Two early successes in these fields were the engraving of 1724 entitled Masquerades and Operas or The Bad Taste of the Town (in which be lampooned Lord Burlington and the fashion for imported Italian entertainment) and twelve large illustrations from 1726 to Samuel Butler's Don Quixote-like novel Hudibras. After the collapse of the first academy in St. Martin's Lane, he attended the private art school in Covent Garden founded in 1724 by a man whom he idolized, Sir James Thornhill (1675/6-1734), a mural painter trained by the baroque artist Antonio Verrio (1639-1707). In 1729 Hogarth eloped with Thornhill's daughter Jane, and years later, in 1757, he succeeded his father-in-law at court as Sergeant Painter to King George II. We can, like Waterhouse,4 view Hogarth's intermittent but lifelong attempts to secure royal patronage, his noble but flawed stabs at historical painting--in St. Bartholomew's Hospital ( 1735 ), Lincoln's Inn Hall (1748), and St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol (1755-56)--as aspects of an ambition to follow step by step the pattern of Thornhill's success.

The first step, taken in 1728 with Thornhill’s encouragement, when he was thirty-one, was to shift from engraving to painting. Among his earliest works is one masterpiece, a theatrical conversation showing a scene from John Gay's Beggar's Opera, which opened to enormous acclaim in 1728 (six versions, one from 1729-32, 22 1/2, x 29 7/8", London, Tate Gallery). Hogarth recorded a dramatic moment during an actual performance, underscoring the journalistic element in some versions by showing the proscenium arch within which the actors play their parts; in addition, melding real life with art, he depicted Lavinia Fenton, the actress playing Polly Peachum, in the act of turning to her real-life lover the Duke of Bolton, who appears in the picture as part of the audience on the stage. But brilliant as his Beggar's Opera was, it was not a success Hogarth repeated for several years. With a young wife to support, he concentrated for the next three years on commissions for small-scale conversation pieces in the manner of the successful French artist Philip Mercier (1689/91-1760). Ronald Paulson estimated that Hogarth painted at least two dozen of these groups between 1728 and 1731,5 and although (in John Ireland's paraphrase of Hogarth's own words) Hogarth regarded the work as a "kind of drudgery,"6 the strides he made in his technique, draftsmanship, and composition during this time indicate ceaseless hard work. Vertue could write around 1730 that "Mr Hogarths paintings gain every day so many admirers that happy are they that can get a picture of his painting.''7 Yet in many cases the sitters seem to have presented too little of a challenge to the young man. Indeed, he rarely responded at this stage to his sitters as individuals, and as a painter of conversations in the early 1730s he may be consigned to the level of a charming but very limited minor master.

This he certainly knew. After about 1731 he began to turn clients away in order to try his hand at a genre of his own invention, the "moder[n] moral Subject[,] a Field unbroke up in any Country or any age."8 In his three great narrative cycles of the 1730s and 1740s, ''A Harlot's Progress" (1732), "A Rake's Progress" (1732-34), and "Marriage à la Mode" (1743), he developed themes and narrative techniques first explored in The Beggar's Opera. These famous cycles showing the descent to ruin, disease, and death of variously, a whore, a libertine, and a young couple married for convenience are fictional tales of life in eighteenth-century London. In each we follow the adventures of one or more characters invented by Hogarth as they unfold from one canvas or engraving to another, structured in the same manner as a story in literature, with the equivalents of an introduction, development, subplot, climax, and denouement. They are completely theatrical in the sense that performers use gesture, pose, costume, props, and lighting to further or explicate a narrative line; and yet, as in The Beggar's Opera Hogarth used portraits of real people--the composer George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), the singer Giovanni Carestini ( 1705-1760 )--side by side with those of invented characters to create a sense that what the viewer sees is a story as real as any found in the streets or salons of contemporary London. The artist wrote succinctly of his own role as narrator or author: "Subjects I consider'd as writers do[;] my Picture was my Stage and men and women my actors who were by Mean[ s] of certain Actions and express[ions] to Exhibit a dumb shew."9

Not every cycle, however, was a success. "The Industrious and Idle Apprentice" ("Industry and Idleness") (1747) and "The Stages of Cruelty” (1751) are little more than crude clichés badly drawn and engraved. "The Election Cycle" of 1753-54 (London, Sir John Soane Museum) is beautifully painted but refers to abuses and issues in English politics so specific to the 1750s that they belong to a slightly baser tradition of political caricature, culminating in the prints of James Gillray (1757-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) later in the century.

By achieving some financial security through the sale of the engravings of the ''Harlot's Progress" and "Rake's Progress"--a success he insured by working tirelessly for the passage of the Copyright Act of 1735, which protected artists from the pirating of their designs--Hogarth also achieved freedom from the need to court the patronage of the rich. At the same time he abandoned temporarily both the conversation piece and the progress: "I ... entertain'd some notions of succeeding in what is call[ed] the grand stile of History [so that] without having done any-thing of the kind before[ ,] Painted the staire case at St Bartholomew Hospital gratis."10 These paintings, The Pool of Bethesda (1736, 164 x 243") and The Good Samaritan (1737, 164 x 243"), launched his attempt to preserve by a single thread the moribund tradition of both history and religious painting in England. But however admirable the ambition, the resultant paintings have always been deemed only fairly successful, their scale not quite commensurate with Hogarth's ability to organize space, gesture, and dramatic expression in a dignified and rational way. Vertue was the first to pronounce them "more than cou[l]d be expected of [Hogarth],"11 and yet they exerted by their very existence a vital influence on later generations of history painters, notably Benjamin West (1738-1820 ).

Having curtailed his work as a painter of conversations in the early 1730s, Hogarth returned to the field of portraiture with renewed vigor in the 1740s, this time concentrating on single or double portraits. The reason, we are told, was his resentment against the huge success of the French portrait painter Jean Baptiste van Loo (1684-1745), who arrived in England in December 1737 for a stay of five years.

One example of Hogarth's work as a portrait painter must serve to sum up a dozen works of the deepest feeling, quality, and originality. This is his famous full-length portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (94 x 58", London, Thomas Coram Foundation for Children) of 1740. Coram (c. 1668-1751) was a wealthy ship's captain who founded London's first hospital for orphans in 1739. Hogarth was a member of the board of governors of the Foundling Hospital, and for them he painted the portrait as a gift. In England there were few precedents in art for public images of such men. People like Coram were only beginning to want to be painted in the 1730s and 1740s, and so far had confined their patronage to the modest (and private) format of the conversation piece or bust-length portrait. Hogarth, therefore, was forced to rely on an aristocratic formula, basing Coram's pose on a French source, Rigaud's portrait of the banker Samuel Bernard engraved by Drevet in 1729.12 But Hogarth transformed Bernard's pose into one suitable for a simple man by omitting the windblown swag of drapery and the classicizing robe worn by the banker, while retaining elements such as the globe, the ships, and the seal of the royal charter of the Foundling Hospital, which were truly pertinent to Coram's achievement. And so the sitter appears without a wig, dressed in a plain suit and stockings and wearing a rough red coat without embroidery. His face, which still strikes us as a brilliantly accurate likeness, suggests a mixture of kindliness and hardiness.

Hogarth has been called the father of English painting because he is the first artist to have painted pictures in genres we now take for granted--middle-class portraits, modern moral subjects, scenes from Shakespeare (Falstaff; 1728, 19 1/2 x 23", London, The Iveagh Bequest; The Tempest, c. 1735, 31 1/2, x 40", Wakesfield, Nostell Priory Collection; and David Garrick as Richard III, 1745, 75 x 98 1/2", Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery), and a passage from Milton (Satan, Sin, and Death, 1735-40, 24 3/4 x 29 3/8", London, Tate Gallery). In addition, he was the founder of the famous St. Martin's Lane Academy, which he took over after the demise of Thornhill's academy in Covent Garden in 1734 and ran until the 1750s. With Hogarth's example before them, the St. Martin's Lane group--Gravelot (1699-1773), Roubiliac (1705?-1762), Francis Hayman ( 1708-1776 ), and the young Gainsborough (1727-1788)--stood for all that was anticlassical, unstuffy, fresh, and elegant in English art.13 Perhaps paradoxically, Hogarth resisted a movement in the 1750s to form a Royal Academy, objecting partly to the stratification of artists into ranks and partly to dependence on royal patronage which, he thought, could serve only to benefit the House of Hanover.14 Furthermore, Hogarth was against teaching too many boys to become artists, for only a few could hope to make a living by their brush: "Great painting requires the genius of a Shakespeare or a Swift; it is better to be a successful tradesman or manufacturer than a mediocre painter condemned to starvation."15 Hogarth was old by the time the age of the public art exhibition began to dawn. The only one in which he exhibited was in that of the Society of Artists at Spring Gardens in 1761 when he contributed seven paintings.

Finally, it is not possible to write about Hogarth's achievement without mentioning his Analysis of Beauty, a book of 1753 that has been called the first systematic anti-academic treatise. This was yet another volley at Burlington and Kent and their promotion of the rules and decorum of Palladian classicism. Hogarth stood for a freer, more informal style of painting, a style more or less identical with the rococo. In the Analysis he speaks of “the line of beauty," a concept that means not only a specific, undulating S shape but a way of looking at form as inseparable from movement in space and, by implication, of growth. He therefore argues for a connection between absolute beauty and organic, living things: a profoundly anticlassical conception, which in certain ways anticipated Ruskin's (1819-1900) defense of the Gothic almost a century later. Hogarth's quarrels with pro-academy factions in London and the attacks heaped upon his Analysis helped to estrange him from his fellow artists toward the end of his otherwise successful and fruitful life. He died in 1764.

Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 153-156.

1. William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty with the Rejected Passages from the Manuscript Drafts and Autobiographical Notes, ed. Joseph Burke (Oxford, 1955), p. 204.
2. Ibid., p. 205.
3. John Ireland. A Supplement to Hogarth Illustrated; Compiled from His Original Manuscripts, in the Possession of John Ireland. Vol. 3 of Hogarth Illustrated. London, 1798. [containing Hogarth's Anecdotes of an Artist], p. 13.
4. Ellis K. Waterhouse. Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790. 4th ed. New York and Middlesex, 1978, p. 168.
5. Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1971, vol. 1, p. 213.
6. John Ireland. A Supplement to Hogarth Illustrated; Compiled from His Original Manuscripts, in the Possession of John Ireland. Vol. 3 of Hogarth Illustrated. London, 1798. [containing Hogarth's Anecdotes of an Artist], p. 26.
7. George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), p. 41.
8. Burke, ed. (see note 1), p. 216.
9. Ibid., p. 209.
10. Ibid., p. 216.
11. George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), p. 78.
12. Frederick Antal. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London and New York, 1962, pls. 66a and b.
13. Mark Girouard. ''Coffee at Slaughter's, English Art and the Rococo-I." Country Life, January 1966, pp. 58-61.
14. Michael Kitson. "Hogarth's 'Apology for Painters.''' The Walpole Society, 1966-1968, vol. 41 (1968), pp. 46-111, p. 92.
15. Ibid., p. 68.

Jean André Rouquet, Lettres de Monsieur ** à un de ses amis à Paris, pour expliquer les estampes de Monsieur Hogarth (London, 1746); William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty (London, 1753); John Trusler, Hogarth Moralized (London, 1768); Horace Walpole. Anecdotes of Painting in England. Collected by the Late Mr. George Vertue. Vol. 4. London, 1771, vol. 4, pp. 68-89; John Nichols, ed., Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth; with a Catalogue of His Works (3rd ed., 1785; facsimile repr. London, 1971); John Ireland. Hogarth Illustrated. 2 vols. London, 1791; Samuel Ireland. Graphic Illustrations of Hogarth from Pictures, Drawings and Scarce Prints in the Possession of Samuel Ireland. 2 vols. London, 1794-99; John Ireland. A Supplement to Hogarth Illustrated; Compiled from His Original Manuscripts, in the Possession of John Ireland. Vol. 3 of Hogarth Illustrated. London, 1798. [containing Hogarth's Anecdotes of an Artist]; John Nichols and George Steevens. The Genuine Works of William Hogarth. 3 vols. London, 1808-17; Horace Walpole. Anecdotes of Painting in England ... Collected by the Late Mr. George Vertue ... with Considerable Additions by the RCP. James Dallaway. [1765-71]. Rev. ed. 5 vols. London, 1828, vol. 4, pp. 126-175; John Bowyer Nichols, ed. Anecdotes of William Hogarth Written by Himself. London, 1833. Reprint. London, 1970; John Trusler. The Works of William Hogarth; In a Series of Engravings; with Descriptions, and a Comment on Their Moral Tendency .. . To Which Are Added, Anecdotes of the Author and His Works, by J. Hogarth and J. Nichols. [1768]. Rev. ed. 2 vols. London, 1833; Allan Cunningham. The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters. Rev. ed., annotated by Mrs. Charles Heaton. 3 vols. London, 1879, vol. 1, pp. 44-151; Horace Walpole. Anecdotes of Painting in England; with Some Account of the Principal Artists. .. with Additions by the Rev. James Dallaway ... a New Edition Revised, with Additional Notes by Ralph N. Wornum. Rev. ed. 3 vols. in 2. London, 1888. pp. 1-26; Austin Dobson. William Hogarth. [ I879]. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1907; William Roberts. The Sharpe Family: A Conversation Piece by William Hogarth. London, 1920; George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), p. 41; Edgar Wind. ''Borrowed Attitudes in Reynolds and Hogarth." Journal of the Warburg Institute, vol. 2 (1938-39 ), pp. 182-85; Joseph Burke, "Hogarth and Reynolds," The William Henry Charlton Memorial Lecture., November 1941 (Oxford and London, 1943); Joseph Burke, "A Classical Aspect of Hogarth's Theory of Art," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 6 (1943), pp. 151-53; R. B. Beckett. "Famous Hogarths in America." Art in America, vol. 36, no. 4 (October 1948), pp. 159-92; A. P. Oppé, The Drawings of William Hogarth (London, 1948); R. B. Beckett. Hogarth. London, 1949; Ebenezer Forrest. Hogarth's Peregrination. Edited by Charles Mitchell. Oxford, 1952; Hilde Kurz, "Italian Models of Hogarth's Picture Stories," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 15 (1952), pp. 136-68; Frederick Antal, "The Moral Purpose of Hogarth's Art," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 15 (1952), pp. 169-97; Lawrence Gowing, "Hogarth, Hayman, and the Vauxhall Decorations," The Burlington Magazine, vol. 95, no. 598 (January 1953), pp. 4-19; William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty with the Rejected Passages from the Manuscript ed. Joseph Burke (Oxford, 1955); George Vertue, "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England," The Walpole Society, 1951-1952 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 6], vol. 30 (1955); Frederick Antal. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London and New York, 1962; David Kunzle, "Plagiaries-by-Memory of the 'Rake's Progress,"' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 29 (1966), pp. 311-48; Gabriele Baldini and Gabriele Mandel. L’opera completa di Hogarth pittore. Milan, 1967; Michael Kitson. “Hogarth's 'Apology for Painters.’” The Walpole Society, 1966-1968, vol. 41 (1968), pp. 46-111; Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, 2 vols. (1965; rev. ed. New Haven and London, 1970); Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1971; Ralph Edwards. "The Dumb Rhetoric of the Scenery.'' Apollo, n.s., vol. 95 (January 1972), pp. 14-21; Ronald Paulson, The Art of Hogarth (London, 1975); Jack Lindsay. Hogarth: His Art and His World. London, 1977. New York, 1979; Mary Webster. Hogarth. London, 1979.

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