Self-Portrait: The Painter and His Pug, 1745, oil and paint on canvas.
Early biographers of William Hogarth (1697-1764) give the impression of Hogarth as a self-made man, rising from humble beginnings to become the most important artist of his age. William Hogarth was born on November 10, 1697 to Richard and Anne Hogarth in Bartholomew Close in Smithfield, London. According to Thomas Mortimer (1730-1810), Richard Hogarth was a country schoolmaster and, later worked as a corrector for a London press. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, David Bindman notes that Richard Hogarth was a publisher of Greek and Latin textbooks, and the proprietor of a Latin coffee house. His endeavors failed, leaving his family impoverished and he was confined to Fleet Street Prison. William was therefore too impoverished for university study (Bindman). Mortimer says that Hogarth’s interest in the arts started when he was an apprentice to a silversmith named Ellis Gamble, where he found an “impulse of genius, and felt it directed him to painting” (Mortimer).
As a boy, Hogarth attended an academy in St. Martin’s lane, where he studied character drawing and portraiture, but, as Mortimer laments, Hogarth’s paintings lagged behind his drawings in the public notice. Joseph Watson, in The Adeline Journal, states that the public “remained blind to his efforts for a long time” because he was a “poor and unfriended youth.” After his apprenticeship, Hogarth went into business as a copper engraver, producing shop cards, funeral announcements, and book engravings, but it was his “elaborate satires on contemporary themes that brought him wider notice” (Bindman). Among his earlier successes were engravings for The South Sea Scheme (1721) and his illustrations for Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (published 1726) (Bindman). Watson tells us that his satires “won for him, not only fortune and an influential position in life, but also immortality for his name.” Hogarth’s work began to be in such high demand that “needy artists” started to engrave many of his popular works for money. He lost a significant amount of income due to plagiarism, but was able to win a copyright through Parliament to inhibit the creation of any further works of plagiarism (Watson). According to Watson, “Hogarth lampooned, not as a politician, but as a great moral reformer.” According to Bindman, “He died in his house in Leicester Fields, during the night of 25–6 October 1764, and was buried in Chiswick churchyard on 2 November.”
Hogarth’s skill as an artist is consistently supported by his peers. According to John Nichols: “Hogarth probably chose this occupation, as it required some skill in drawing, to which his genius was particularly turned, and which he contrived assiduously to cultivate” (8). Horace Walpole (1717-1797) notes Hogarth’s ability to infuse satire into his artistic expressions: “Hogarth resembles [Samuel] Butler [(1613-1680) author ofHudibras], but his subjects are more universal, and amidst all his pleasantry he observes the true end of comedy, reformation; there is always a moral to his pictures” (Hogarth 69). Perhaps as a result of his fame and pointed satires on the vices of the age, particularly those of the upper classes, Hogarth was the subject of character attacks. His refusal to kowtow to certain politicians, particularly Prime Minister William Pitt (1708-1778), led to fallings out with John Wilkes (1725–1797) and the poet Charles Churchill (1732–1764) (Bindman). Churchill’s “Epistle to William Hogarth,” accused Hogarth of a lack of patriotism and misanthropy in a searing invective that David Garrick called “shocking and barbarous” (qtd. in Fitzgerald 13). John Nichols comments that Hogarth was unable to depict upper class women, and for that reason focused on the low-born “bettys” of the world (Nichols 47). Nichols also criticizes Hogarth for his satires of the clergy and religion (Nichols 61). Despite such attacks, Hogarth’s skill in engraving and painting could not be denied. Allen Cunningham remarks, “he painted life as he saw it. He gives no visions of by gone things […] he was contented with the occurrences of the passing day—with the folly or sin of the hour; to the garb and fashion of the moment, however he adds a story and sentiment for all time (Hogarth,Anecdotes 87).
In 1753, Hogarth published his treatise titled An Analysis of Beauty in which he emphasized variety, intricacy, simplicity, fitness, quantity, and regularity. Fitness, he explains has to do with the proportions of the body or object. This is connected to regularity: “whence it is clear, the pleasure does not arise from seeing the exact resemblance, which one side bears the other, but from the knowledge that they do so on account of fitness, with design, and for use” (Hogarth, Analysis 15). “Intricacy in form,” he says, “I shall define to be that peculiarity in the lines, which compose it, that leads the eye a wanton kind of chace [sic]” (25). Hogarth recommends simplicity to balance variety: “simplicity without variety is wholly insipid […] but when variety is join’d to it, then it pleases, because it enhances the pleasure of variety, but giving the eye the power to enjoy it with ease” (21). Quantity, he says, “adds greatness to grace. But excess is to be avoided” lest the work become clumsy (30). William Hogarth’s Aesthetic in The Analysis of Beauty in some ways aligns with ideas traditionally associated with the ancient Greeks. J.T.A Burke remarks that Socrates would have admired “the juxtaposition of the familiar and the august” that Hogarth employs in Analysis’s first plate.
The plate depicts a scene of a yard filled with objects: “specimens of classical scripture that the eighteenth century most admired…surrounded by eighteenth century buildings and accessories” (Burke 151). Greek themes also appear in Hogarth’s description of “fitness” or practical beauty vs. formal beauty. As an example, Hogarth cites Greek sculptures of Hercules that reduce his lower muscles but enlarge the upper muscles, because the character of Hercules had “all parts fitted for the purpose of the utmost strength that the human form can bear” (Burke 152) and thus would only need an especially enlarged upper body to be “fit” for his task. However, Burke argues, these Greek allusions don’t distract from Hogarth’s own content, but enhance it. “The Greek influence on the Analysis is, as all influences should be, a stimulating rather than a dominating one.” This distinction separates him from the so-called “connoisseurs” of Greek culture who were his contemporaries, and whom Hogarth disliked (Burke 152).
John Ireland (1742-1808) who wrote a posthumous biography of Hogarth and edited his collected prints, summarizes Hogarth’s importance to English art: “Disdaining to copy or translate, he left the superior class of beings that people the canvas of Poussin and Michael Angelo to their admirers, selected his images from his own country, and gave them with a truth, energy, and variety of character, ever appropriate, and invariably original” (Hogarth, Anecdotes 77). Comparing Hogarth to other artists of the period, Timothy Erwin argues for Hogarth’s innovating importance and ability to accommodate to the tastes of a rapidly diversifying nation. Erwin points out that Hogarth’s ability to make art as realistic as possible allowed him to develop a style which supported British nationalism, allowing people from all walks of life to unite and discuss about the many topics concerning them, something which the old schools of art could never achieve. This sense of national unity and diversity gave Hogarth’s work a wider appeal (Erwin 410).
The present project contains much of Hogarth’s best satirical work. Other works, which were not included for the sake of time, but have been given significant critical attention, deserve note. The Harlot’s Progress (1732) and The Rake’s Progress (1734) were series of paintings turned into engravings. Unfortunately, the original paintings forThe Harlot’s Progress are now lost. Another story cycle, Marriage A La Mode (1734-35) is a series of paintings satirizing modern marriage from the settlement of the marriage contract to the young wife’s death. Beer Lane and Gin Lane (1751) and The March to Finchley (1750) are individual prints that have attracted wide critical analysis.
Bindman, David. ‘Hogarth, William (1697–1764)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009. Web. 4 Aug. 2014.
Burke, J.T.A. “A Classical Aspect of Hogarth’s Theory of Art.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 6 (1943) 151-153. Web. 7 Aug. 2014.
Churchill, Charles. An Epistle to William Hogarth. 2nd edition. London: (publisher, 1763. Web. ECCO. 17 July 2014.
Erwin, Timothy. “William Hogarth and the Aesthetics of Nationalism.” Huntington Library Quarterly 64. 3/4 (2001): 383-410.
Fitzgerald, Percy. The Life of David Garrick: From Original Family Papers and Numerous Published and Unpublished Sources. Vol 2. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1868.
Hogarth, William. Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Written by Himself. Reprint. London: JB Nichols and Son, 1833. Web. American Libraries. 4 Aug 2014.
Hogarth, William. The Analysis of Beauty, Written with a View of Fixing the Fluctuating Ideas of Taste. London: J. Reeves, 1753. Web. ECCO. 31 July 2014.
Ireland, John. Hogarth Illustrated. 2 vols. London: J. and J. Boydell, 1793. Web. ECCO. 20 July 2014.
Mortimer, Thomas. The British Plutarch, Containing the Lives of the Most Eminent Statesmen, Patriots, Divines, Warriors, Philosophers, Poets, and Artists, of Great Britiain and Ireland. Vol 7. London: Charles Dillly, 1791. Web. ECCO. 31 July 2014.
Nichols, John. Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth; and a Catalogue of his Works Chronologically Arranged; with Occasional Remarks. London: JB Nichols and son, 1781. Web. ECCO. 17 July 2014.
Watson, Joseph. “William Hogarth.” The Adeline 7.8 (August 1874): 152-153.