English Engraver, Satirist and Painter
Summary of William Hogarth
Best remembered for his intricate and satirical prints, Hogarth was a varied and prolific artist who mastered a range of styles and genres ranging from conversation pieces and realistic portraiture to grotesque caricature. He was the most significant artist of his generation and the first English-born artist to attract attention abroad. Hogarth invented the idea of a narrative series of prints, which told a story through a number of images, and he produced a significant number on "modern moral subjects" from prostitution to politics. In doing so he provided a visceral social commentary, highlighting and lampooning corruption and presenting images of the seedy underbelly of London, which had rarely been portrayed before. It was these unique prints that brought him wealth and fame in his own lifetime and beyond, as well as influencing the work of 18th century novelists in their subject matter and focus on individual narratives. The prints can also be seen as the forerunner of cartoons and comic strips.
- Hogarth drew readily on the scenes of everyday life that he had witnessed growing up in relative poverty as a child. His engravings often depict those trying to survive on the fringes of society and his prints are characterized by an incredible eye for detail (including many subtle puns and references), an often bawdy and ribald humor, and an ability to render striking and individual faces.
- After witnessing the widescale plagiarism of his first series of prints, A Harlot's Progress (1732) by competing engravers who produced cheap and inferior copies, Hogarth lobbied for the introduction of copyright protection for engravers. This was enacted in 1735, and became known as Hogarth's Law - it was one of the first of its kind in the world.
- Hogarth is viewed as the founding member of The English School, the dominant school of painting in the UK throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the first distinctly native style that the country produced. His paintings drew on the French Rococo aesthetic but Hogarth added a layer of realism to his work which was innovative. This coupled with his ambition, popularity, and storytelling ability went on to influence the works of Reynolds and Gainsborough amongst others.
Biography of William Hogarth
William Hogarth was born on November 10th, 1697 in London. His father, Richard, was a classical scholar, but although well-educated, was not wealthy, making a precarious living as a schoolmaster, from writing Latin and Greek textbooks and, later, as a coffee house proprietor. The Hogarth family moved a number of times during Hogarth's early years, but always remained within the bustling East End of the city, near to Smithfield Market.
Important Art by William Hogarth
This plate was the third in a series of six engravings (based on paintings of the same name) that charts young Moll Hackabout's life in London. The fictional character came to the capital from the country in the hope of finding work in service. Instead she is taken advantage of and becomes a high-class prostitute, before falling on the hard times depicted in plate III. By plate IV she is dying, toothless and pockmarked by venereal disease, while the final plate shows her funeral wake with her young illegitimate son sitting by her coffin.
In this composition, Hogarth mimics the very common religious depiction of the Annunciation, to satirically highlight the fall of the young woman. Moll is in shabby room in Drury Lane, getting out of bed after a leisurely lie-in. The witch's hat and switch on the wall communicate to the viewer that her current position necessitate her to indulge in flagellation and black magic. Above her bed is a box belonging to the famous highwayman James Dalton, suggesting that he is now her principal lover. She is less well dressed than in the previous plate and she dangles a watch from her fingers, no doubt obtained illegally from the previous night's customer. The piece is full of pictorial puns and detailed references including the domestic cat at Moll's feet which hints at her profession.
Moll's ultimate downfall is foreshadowed by the serving woman at her side, who has lost part of her nose to syphilis, and has a sore on her face. While Moll looks smiling and suggestively at the viewer, behind her a magistrate and officers enter to arrest her. As writer Susan Elizabeth Benenson writes: "Like his great predecessor, the 16th-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hogarth wanted to extract entertaining and instructive incidents from life. In telling the story of a young country girl's corruption in London and her consequent miseries, he not only ridiculed the viciousness and follies of society but painted an obvious moral."
This work was instrumental in securing Hogarth's reputation as the great moral and satirical artist of his time. The use of multiple scenes in his work allowed him a more complex narrative, and led to his reception as a "literary artist". 18th century essayist and poet Charles Lamb wrote: "His graphic representations are indeed books: they have the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words. Other pictures we look at - his prints, we read." The original paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1755. In 2006 the works were taken as inspiration for the film A Harlot's Progress, directed by Justin Hardy.
The Tavern Scene, plate III of the Rake's Progress Series, shows a debauched and lively evening of drinking at the heart of which is Tom Rakewell, the anti-hero of the work. Another fictional character, Tom, like Moll, came to the city to build a life, only to succumb to its temptations. The previous two plates show Tom returning from University to learn his wealthy father has died, leaving him everything. He immediately shuns his pregnant girlfriend, and by plate III we find him drunk in the early hours at a brothel. At his side is a prostitute with a face pock-marked by venereal disease, reaching under his shirt, probably to rob him. Surrounding him are other fallen characters; a stripper undresses in the foreground, a tradesman to the rear fondles a prostitute, and two women prepare for a spitting contest.
Before he produced engravings of the series of paintings, Hogarth exhibited the oils in his home, as a preview. They acted as an advert for the prints which he later sold on subscription. In the work we see Hogarth's expertise in creating a claustrophobic intimacy that forces us to look at the subjects, and therefore our own experience, as they gamble, cheat, and ultimately fail. The rake in this case ends up being arrested and ends his days in Bedlam, a London asylum.
As Christine Riding explains: "Hogarth in a masterly way presented each scene with a realism and intimacy that established his artistic identity as the roving satirist who observes with an unflinching eye the seedier side of London life." Ultimately, it was his skill in doing this, his eye for detail, and his ability to create comedy and caricature, that made him famous.
Another of Hogarth's series, Marriage à la Mode tells the story of a disastrous union of convenience, between a profligate aristocrat's son and the daughter of an aspiring middle-class merchant - the sole purpose of which is the exchange of wealth for social status. This first scene The Marriage Settlement sets the stage, making it clear that this is a business arrangement, rather than a union of love. This is echoed in the dark and somber room in which the couple themselves have been pushed to the side of the canvas. The bride, dressed in white is almost doubled over in sadness as she grips at her handkerchief, indicating tears shed. She faces away from her foppish betrothed who, caught in his own reverie as he stares at his reflection, is completely oblivious to the business dealings going on around them.
The groom's father can be seen on the right of the canvas, gesturing to himself proudly while he rests his gout-ridden and bandaged foot on a stool. With his other hand he points to a family tree, indicating an unlikely lineage that goes back to the Normans. The message is clear; he is selling his son for cash. Meanwhile, the rich merchant on the other end of the transaction is flanked by his lawyer. The house framed in the window encapsulates the symbolism of the work; it is all for show, like the marriage.
The work has its origins in Dutch and French group portraiture, but in Hogarth's conversation piece, he uses satire to take it to another level. Historian Professor Amanda Vickery described the work as a "vicious depiction of aristocratic culture and marriage as barter and sale. The fact that this will be utterly loveless marriage is signified by two chained dogs - it will be a prison." This series was one of Hogarth's most popular and both the original paintings and the later engravings exemplify his skill in composition and in rendering individual characters. The work inspired James McNeil Whistler when he saw it exhibited at the National Gallery.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on William Hogarth
- The Analysis of BeautyBy William Hogarth
- HogarthBy Mark Hallett and Christine Riding
- Hogarth (Art and Ideas)By Mark Hallett
- William Hogarth: A Life and a WorldBy Jenny Uglow
- Engravings by HogarthBy Sean Shesgreen
- Hogarth - Complete EngravingsBy William Hogarth
- The complete works of William Hogarth: in a series of one hundred and fifty steel engravings from the original picturesBy William Hogarth
- William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the PaintingsBy Elizabeth Einberg
- Death by drinking: William Hogarth's Gin LaneBy Jonathan Jones
September 12, 2012
- Hogarth, the father of the modern cartoonBy Harry Mount
November 1, 2014
- Hogarth's anti-progress: how the father of British painting went missing from our galleriesBy Jonathan Jones
October 24, 2014
- Hogarth's London: Gin Lane and Beer StreetBy Alastair Sooke
June 10, 2015
- Hogarth's Progress review - dazzling double bill charts artist's path to woeBy Michael Billington
September 30, 2018
- In search of rakes and harlots - how to immerse yourself in Hogarth's LondonBy Nick Trend
January 22, 2019
- The grandfather of satireBy Martin Rowson
January 1, 2007
- William Hogarth's The Enraged Musician: gritty gloryBy Skye Sherwin
January 4, 2019
- A Rake's Progress By William Hogarth - Seven Ages of Britain
- Cartoonist Martin Rowson takes to the streets of London in pursuit of the Hogarth's satiric genius
- Gin Lane: A Thirst for Art
- Hogarth - The Modern Moralist - a documentary
- Hogarth's Progress - a BBC Documentary
- How William Hogarth's gift of a painting helped save children's lives
- Ken Loach Inspired by William Hogarth
- William Hogarth's Marriage A-la-Mode