William Hogarth and His roots

William Hogarth was the 5th child born to Anne Gibbons on November 10, 1697. Although they were not living in the slums, his father Richard Hogarth was a deprived Latin teacher originating from a small farming community, then went to London with high hopes of becoming an educator and writer. Unfortunately William’s father failed in this endeavour, he also ventured into a Latin-themed coffee house, which unfortunately failed in the end, which also led him to imprisonment secondary debt, but can be considered very lucky for later on, he was released due to an amnesty program .

During his teenage years, Hogarth left school and started to train with Ellis Gamble a silver plate engraver, who was a distant relative. He was not able to finish this apprenticeship with Gamble but Hogarth was determined to get out of poverty, so he established his own engraving business doing book plates, small etched cards and other short lived projects.

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Because he was interested in painting, he started studying it, firstly at St. Martin’s Lane Academy, when around this time he met and became friends with the artist, Sir James Thornhill, he continued his studies in painting under the tutelage of Thornhill at the Covent Garden. He eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729. In an effort to tap into the rewarding market of conversation pieces, Hogarth then directed his art towards painting . He got his break after finishing work commission to him for the novel Hudibras (figure 1. 0) by Samuel Butler in 1726.

At about this time he also started to do satirical pieces. Hogarth by then was making a good living out of doing portraits and conversation pieces, but he believed that the profit he was making from such were not enough and thus, he started making his own genre of art, he called it the ‘modern moral subject’ and he was able to establish himself thoroughly as an artist owing to his two most triumphant ‘masterpieces’.

The first one, ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ (figure 1. 1) consisted of 6 sequential plates that depicted the life of a country girl who went to London with high hopes but only to become a prostitute, the pictures showed her at various intervals of her life but never deviating from the theme of prostitution, then the last plate would reveal her eventual death at what seem to be a young age in the hands of Londoners . This set not only presented the elaborate costumes and intricate interior designs of eighteenth century London but also gives light to the English culture of the time.

One might notice than Hogarth uses people of ordinary statures in his paintings rather than coin from myths or legends, it is significant to note that even as this was so, the dress styles and over all aura of the personalities he chose to depict in his pictures would have been easily recognized by the people who view his work. Hogarth shows that sometimes the society even with good intentions can become cruel in the face of external influences and life situations that force them to become as such. It can be interpreted as the callus society and questionable morality of the era where Hogarth existed.

This set of 6 plates was unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1755. The next masterpiece was called, ‘A Rake’s Progress’ (figure 1. 2), now in contrast to the Harlot this set of 8 plates this time depicted someone from the upper classes, a spendthrift heir of a rich merchant in the person of Tom Rakewell, this lad spent all of his inheritance on extravagant existence; vices to the tune of gambling and prostitution, but through various mishaps and wrong choices, he eventually found himself thrown in jail then afterwards he ended up in a mental facility.

The series depicted the lifestyle carried on by the people of England during the artist’s era. He was obviously trying to teach a moral lesson to his viewers, elaborating on the ultimate downfall of individuals who decides to lead a certain life he also pictured the lifestyle and culture of the society at that time. Hogarth depicts pictures of a high fashion society that included tailors, performers and riders. The next pictures were of men wearing expensive dress clothes that depict the excessive spending of reckless squanderer.

Parties, whores and gambling houses express yet another feature of the young spendthrift wasting away money. A life lived this way can only lead to one path, arrest and ultimate imprisonment met the squandering rascal and in the end losing his mind and was placed in a mental facility. The last few scenes of this set provides a glimpse of how an institution caters to the likes of the rake, yet the last scene also shows an array of fashionable ladies visiting the bedlam for what seemed like a social occasion.

Both set of satirical series was first painted on canvass and then engraved and via the engravings he made of these paintings he established himself as a brilliant satirist of moral follies . ‘A Harlot’s Progress’ (1732); ‘A Rake’s Progress’ (1735); ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’ (1745) and ‘Industry and Idleness’ (1747), were vended as engravings and were hugely popular among the society.

But alas he was hounded by the artistic piracy that his popular engravings were subjected to, he ensured the passage of a copyright act, often called Hogarth’s Act in 1735, since the many con artist that plagiarised his pieces caused him to lose precious royalty fees, as safeguard for writers and artists like him from plagiarists. In 1753 he published his treatise for art ‘the Analysis of Beauty’ after he was labelled as a spy and expelled in Calais (1748) and although he never painted the King or for the King he was appointed Sergeant Painter to the King in 1757.

One many also take notice of two murals that he did for Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, it was two of the most ambitious pieces done by Hogarth’s, although it might be construed also as the least characteristic of his work, The Good Samaritan and The Pool of Bethesda painted on the staircase of Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, from 1735 to 1736. These murals were accomplished in a grand manner, a highly decorative, elaborate style that depicted a mythological focus; although it was not Hogarth was known for, it was popular in the French and Italian art of the period.

In 1762 Hogarth printed his pacifist satire, ‘The Times’, upsetting a number of MPs and the country’s leading politicians including John Wilkes where he found an enemy, for John Wilkes attacked him in the latter’s newspaper, ‘The North Briton’. Not to be outdone, Hogarth retaliated by creating an engraving, he aptly called ‘John Wilkes, Esq. ’ (figure 1. 3), this engraving featured Wilkes wearing a wig that looks like a horn while holding a symbolic cap of liberty in such a way that it looks like a halo for himself . But not long after he produced the print of his work on Wilkes, did Hogarth become critically ill.

But even a paralytic seizure in 1763, Hogarth decided to work again, and in April 1764 he was able to produce what would become his last artwork, Tailpiece: The Bathos. William Hogarth’s final published print, it mirrors his depressing state of mind: the whole world and Time himself approaching to an end, in an amassing together of ocular and vocal puns, a classically Augustan gesticulation of final annihilation evocative of the re-establishment of anarchy at the conclusion of Pope’s Dunciad. William Hogarth died on October 25, 1764 at the Leicester House.


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