William Hogarth

William Hogarth

William was one of the three most famous English Rococo artists during the 18th century. He was influenced by French Rococo artists and Italian Renaissance painters likewise his contemporaries such as Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds. William Hogarth originally was an engraver and then converted himself into becoming a painter and portraitist due to the demand of his clients.

Hogarth was famous for his satirical take on the extravagant lifestyle of the affluent English families through his engravings, illustrations and paintings. All he wanted was to express his disappointment in the way the rich and famous recklessly spend their fortune on material things and how these people had the guts to accept marriage even if they didn’t feel like doing it just for the sake of money. This subject is clearly seen on his Marriage-a-la-mode painting, in which the main subject is fixed marriages, particularly the ill-considered ones.
Hogarth was critical when it comes to the English society he grew up in. He used art to be able to awaken people about their current moral standards. And the timing couldn’t be any perfect for it was when the so-called South Sea Bubble took place, a stock market crash that impoverished many English stock market investors and traders.

He has a painting of this event, which is entitled Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme of 1721. The said satirical work showed how Englishmen lost their money in gambling, disorder and other vices. These focus on non-essential activities led to the downfall of the stock market consequently.

Hogarth used art (i.e. engraving, painting, book illustrations, and sketching) to depict the prevailing morally flawed dispositions of the upper class families of his generation. His major art works include the Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme, Harlot’s and Rake’s Progresses, Marriage a-la-mode, and the Four Stages of Cruelty.

Early Life

William Hogarth was born on November 10, 1697 in Bartholomew Close, London, England. He grew up to a poor family, in which his father was a struggling school master and his mother was a simple housewife. He first spent his apprenticeship years around 1713 with Ellis Gamble, a local engraver from Leicester Fields.

Gamble taught him the rudiments of engraving, particularly on how to make trade cards. As time passed by, he developed a deep interest in the London city life. He would sketch people he saw as they stroll down the street, exchange chit-chat with a friend, among other regular daily routines.

One of the most significant events of his boyhood years was when his father got imprisoned due to debt. His father founded a café where Latin-speaking people were mostly welcomed. It was nestled at St. John’s Gate, but unfortunately, the business was unsuccessful which buried his father in debt. Thus, Richard Hogarth was sentenced to five years imprisonment. The young Hogarth never opened up about this particular event in his life ever.

Fortunately for the engraver, his father’s imprisonment did not have much impact on his growing reputation. In fact, he got accepted at the Rose and Crown Club which was equivalent to the St. Luke’s Guild for painters and sculptors of Italy and France. There he met Michael Dahl, George Vertue, and Peter Tillemans.

Early Success

Hogarth’s membership with the Rose and Crown Club also meant that he had established his own plate engraving studio, which he did in 1720. It was through this business that he met Sir James Thornhill, a highly regarded artist and academician from Covent Garden. Thornhill had his own arts academy, in which Hogarth received his form training in art.
While in Thornhill Academy, Hogarth was able to a-what-would-be major work during the early years of his career; the illustrated episodes of Hudibras by Samuel Butler. This cemented his good reputation in the engraving industry that he was able to acquire another series of engraving projects for theatrical plays. The South Sea Scheme and The Lottery in 1721 were great examples of Hogarth’s display of humor and wit.

The South Sea Scheme showed English people coming from different religious backgrounds such as Jewish, Protestant and Catholic. In the middle of the work is a merry-go-round-like machine where people embark and on top of it is a goat with an inscription that says “Who’l Ride”. The characters seem to be arranged in disarray to show the chaos and disorder brought about by the stock market crash.

The well-dressed characters take pleasure on having access to the machine in the middle, which symbolize the act of buying stocks in South Sea Company. Unfortunately, this company only cared about people’s money and this selfishness resulted to the inevitable crash. Other works that share the same moral lesson as the South Sea Scheme are The Lottery, A Just View of the British Stage, Masquerades and Operas, and The Mystery of Masonry brought to the Light by the Gorgomons, all of which were completed by 1724.

Conversation Pieces

Towards the latter part of the 1720’s, William Hogarth began changing his artistic style; from producing single bloc painting series to conversation pieces. These pieces are a group of portraits in full size measuring from 12 to 15 inches high. The Foutaine is one good example of this conversation pieces composition which he worked from 1728 to 1732.

He was also the man behind The House of Commons Examining Bambridge and portraits of the actors of the play, The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay. Few examples of his low-life themed paintings included the sketches of Sarah Malcolm. But above all of these paintings, his interpretation of John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor is the considered masterpiece which he completed while living at the household of John Conduitt in Hanover Square.

Throughout the 1730’s had been a very productive decade for William Hogarth. After creating important pieces after pieces, he would still have painted the following works:

  • Southwark Fair and A Midnight Modern Conversation both in 1733
  • Scholars at a Lecture, The Sleeping Congregation, The Company of Undertakers, Before and After, and The Distrest Poet – 1736
  • Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn, The Four Times of the Day – 1738

As a Portrait Painter

In 1740, it marked Hogarth’s year as a portraitist more than anything else although he never lost touch in engraving. What influenced him to shift to portrait painting was the piracy made on his engravings as they were copied in multiple versions to sell to public even without his consent and permission. This piracy of intellectual property resulted to the passing of Copyright Act of 1735.

On his portrait painting career stint, some of his notable clients were David Garrick whom he portrayed as Richard III in the portrait, Simon Fraser, Captain Coram, Bishop Herring, Bishop Hoadly, and his immediate family members. It cannot be denied that he received a good amount of fortune from focusing on this genre mainly because his clients were mostly elite and affluent.

One of his most significant portrait works is The Roast Beef of Old England in 1748. He took his trip to French port of Calais as his inspiration for this work. When he was about to enter to the Gate of Calais he immediately pull out his sketching materials and began drawing the gate’s fortifications. As he was intently observing the gate, a policeman took notice of him thinking that he might be a spy.

By the end of 1740’s, he would have reached the height of his golden career already, living in a very comfortable life. He became a portraitist and engraver in his own right, although he failed in his attempt at trying historical painting.

Advanced Years

Almost ten years before his death in 1764, William Hogarth was appointed as Sergeant Painter to the King’s court. He became so because his brother-in-law who he succeeded in the position resigned. His works at the court exposed him to the inner political issues of the country that in 1762, he produced The Times, a satire with an anti-war theme.

The Times was a very controversial one. John Wilkes was one of the persons who reacted intensely against it, which he did by writing an article published via The North Briton debunking the claims made by Hogarth. The artist fought back by producing an engraving of John Wilkes, depicting the nobleman himself holding a staff with a liberty cap on it. Wilkes was also drawn by Hogarth with a horn-shaped wig. And with the liberty cap sits right above his head, one could see it as a halo which is obviously Hogarth’s satirical take on Wilkes’ personality.

In 1773 though, Hogarth fell ill to a paralytic seizure, which crippled him until his death. But before he died in 1764 in London, he was still able to create a small engraving called The Match Maker and Old Maid. William Hogarth died at the age of 67 and his remains were buried in Chiswick Cemetery.

He left no children to continue his legacy but his followers such as John Collier made a significant impact on the continuation of Hogarth’s engravings throughout the continent. Collier was famous for developing the Lanchashier Hogarth style, which influenced several other artists of the next two centuries.