William Hogarth genius

William Hogarth (1697-1764)

William Hogarth  (1697-1764)

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London, England
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London, England
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Art, printmaking, satyrical cartoons
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I have generally found that persons who had studied painting least were the best judges of it.

William Hogarth was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist. His work ranges from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects", and he is perhaps best known for his series A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode. Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as "Hogarthian".

Hogarth was born in London to a lower-middle-class family. In his youth he took up an apprenticeship with an engraver, but did not complete the apprenticeship. His father underwent periods of mixed fortune, and was at one time imprisoned in lieu of outstanding debts, an event that is thought to have informed William's paintings and prints with a hard edge.

Influenced by French and Italian painting and engraving, Hogarth's works are mostly satirical caricatures, sometimes bawdily sexual, mostly of the first rank of realistic portraiture. They became widely popular and mass-produced via prints in his lifetime, and he was by far the most significant English artist of his generation. Charles Lamb deemed Hogarth's images to be books, filled with "the teeming, fruitful, suggestive meaning of words. Other pictures we look at; his pictures we read."

Early life

William Hogarth was born at Bartholomew Close in London to Richard Hogarth, a poor Latin school teacher and textbook writer, and Anne Gibbons. In his youth he was apprenticed to the engraver Ellis Gamble in Leicester Fields, where he learned to engrave trade cards and similar products.

William Hogarth by Roubiliac, 1741, National Portrait Gallery, London

Young Hogarth also took a lively interest in the street life of the metropolis and the London fairs, and amused himself by sketching the characters he saw. Around the same time, his father, who had opened an unsuccessful Latin-speaking coffee house at St John's Gate, was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet Prison for five years. Hogarth never spoke of his father's imprisonment.

Hogarth became a member of the Rose and Crown Club, with Peter Tillemans, George Vertue, Michael Dahl, and other artists and connoisseurs.


By April 1720, Hogarth was an engraver in his own right, at first engraving coats of arms, shop bills, and designing plates for booksellers.

In 1727 he was hired by Joshua Morris, a tapestry worker, to prepare a design for the Element of Earth. Morris heard that he was "an engraver, and no painter", and consequently declined the work when completed. Hogarth accordingly sued him for the money in the Westminster Court, where the case was decided in his favour on 28 May 1728.

Early works

Early satirical works included an Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme c.1721, published 1724, about the disastrous stock market crash of 1720 known as the South Sea Bubble, in which many English people lost a great deal of money. In the bottom left corner, he shows Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jewish figures gambling, while in the middle there is a huge machine, like a merry-go-round, which people are boarding. At the top is a goat, written below which is "Who'l Ride". The people are scattered around the picture with a sense of disorder, while the progress of the well dressed people towards the ride in the middle shows the foolishness of the crowd in buying stock in the South Sea Company, which spent more time issuing stock than anything else.

Other early works include The Lottery 1724; The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by the Gormagons 1724; A Just View of the British Stage 1724; some book illustrations; and the small print Masquerades and Operas 1724. The latter is a satire on contemporary follies, such as the masquerades of the Swiss impresario John James Heidegger, the popular Italian opera singers, John Rich's pantomimes at Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the exaggerated popularity of Lord Burlington's protégé, the architect and painter William Kent. He continued that theme in 1727, with the Large Masquerade Ticket. In 1726 Hogarth prepared twelve large engravings illustrating Samuel Butler's Hudibras.

The Assembly at Wanstead House. Earl Tylney and family in foreground

These he himself valued highly, and they are among his best book illustrations.

In the following years he turned his attention to the production of small "conversation pieces" i.e., groups in oil of full-length portraits from 12 to 15 inches 300 to 380 mm high. Among his efforts in oil between 1728 and 1732 were The Fountaine Family c.1730, The Assembly at Wanstead House, The House of Commons examining Bambridge, and several pictures of the chief actors in John Gay's popular The Beggar's Opera. One of his real-life subjects was Sarah Malcolm, whom he sketched two days before her execution.

One of Hogarth's masterpieces of this period is the depiction of an amateur performance by children of John Dryden's The Indian Emperor, or The Conquest of Mexico 1732–1735 at the home of John Conduitt, master of the mint, in St George's Street, Hanover Square.

Self-Portrait by Hogarth, ca. 1735, Yale Center for British Art.

Hogarth's other works in the 1730s include A Midnight Modern Conversation 1733, Southwark Fair 1733, The Sleeping Congregation 1736, Before and After 1736, Scholars at a Lecture 1736, The Company of Undertakers Consultation of Quacks 1736, The Distrest Poet 1736, The Four Times of the Day 1738, and Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn 1738. He might also have printed Burlington Gate 1731, evoked by Alexander Pope's Epistle to Lord Burlington, and defending Lord Chandos, who is therein satirized. This print gave great offence, and was suppressed. However, modern authorities such as Ronald Paulson no longer attribute it to Hogarth.

Moralizing art

Harlot's Progress and Rake's Progress

In 1731 Hogarth completed the earliest of his series of moral works, a body of work that led to significant recognition. The collection of six scenes was entitled A Harlot's Progress and appeared first as paintings now lost before being published as engravings. A Harlot's Progress depicts the fate of a country girl who begins prostituting – the six scenes are chronological, starting with a meeting with a bawd and ending with a funeral ceremony that follows the character's death from venereal disease.

The inaugural series was an immediate success and was followed in 1733–1735 by the sequel A Rake's Progress. The second instalment consisted of eight pictures that depicted the reckless life of Tom Rakewell, the son of a rich merchant, who spends all of his money on luxurious living, services from prostitutes, and gambling – the character's life ultimately ends in Bethlem Royal Hospital. The original paintings of A Harlot's Progress were destroyed in the fire at Fonthill House in 1755; the oil paintings of A Rake's Progress 1733–34 are displayed in the gallery room at Sir John Soane's Museum, London, UK.

A Rake's Progress, Plate 8, 1735, and retouched by Hogarth in 1763 by adding the Britannia emblem

When the success of A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress resulted in numerous pirated reproductions by unscrupulous printsellers, Hogarth lobbied in parliament for greater legal control over the reproduction of his and other artists' work. The result was the Engravers' Copyright Act known as 'Hogarth's Act', which became law on 25 June 1735 and was the first copyright law to deal with visual works as well as the first to recognize the authorial rights of an individual artist.

Marriage A-la-Mode

In 1743–1745, Hogarth painted the six pictures of Marriage A-la-Mode National Gallery, London, a pointed skewering of upper-class 18th-century society. This moralistic warning shows the miserable tragedy of an ill-considered marriage for money. This is regarded by many as his finest project and may be among his best-planned story serials.

Marriage à-la-mode, Shortly After the Marriage (scene two of six).

Marital ethics were the topic of much debate in 18th-century Britain. The many marriages of convenience and their attendant unhappiness came in for particular criticism, with a variety of authors taking the view that love was a much sounder basis for marriage. Hogarth here painted a satire – a genre that by definition has a moral point to convey – of a conventional marriage within the English upper class. All the paintings were engraved and the series achieved wide circulation in print form. The series, which is set in a Classical interior, shows the story of the fashionable marriage of Viscount Squanderfield, the son of bankrupt Earl Squander, to the daughter of a wealthy but miserly city merchant, starting with the signing of a marriage contract at the Earl's grand house and ending with the murder of the son by his wife's lover and the suicide of the daughter after her lover is hanged at Tyburn for murdering her husband.

William Makepeace Thackeray wrote:

This famous set of pictures contains the most important and highly wrought of the Hogarth comedies. The care and method with which the moral grounds of these pictures are laid is as remarkable as the wit and skill of the observing and dexterous artist. He has to describe the negotiations for a marriage pending between the daughter of a rich citizen Alderman and young Lord Viscount Squanderfield, the dissipated son of a gouty old Earl ... The dismal end is known. My lord draws upon the counsellor, who kills him, and is apprehended while endeavouring to escape. My lady goes back perforce to the Alderman of the City, and faints upon reading Counsellor Silvertongue's dying speech at Tyburn (place of execution in old London), where the counsellor has been 'executed for sending his lordship out of the world. Moral: don't listen to evil silver-tongued counsellors; don't marry a man for his rank, or a woman for her money; don't frequent foolish auctions and masquerade balls unknown to your husband; don't have wicked companions abroad and neglect your wife, otherwise you will be run through the body, and ruin will ensue, and disgrace, and Tyburn.

Industry and Idleness

In the twelve prints of Industry and Idleness 1747 Hogarth shows the progression in the lives of two apprentices, one of whom is dedicated and hard working, while the other, who is idle, commits crime and is eventually executed. This shows the work ethic of Protestant England, where those who worked hard were rewarded, such as the industrious apprentice who becomes Sheriff plate 8, Alderman plate 10, and finally the Lord Mayor of London in the last plate in the series. The idle apprentice, who begins "at play in the church yard" plate 3, holes up "in a Garrett with a Common Prostitute" after turning highwayman plate 7 and "executed at Tyburn" plate 11. The idle apprentice is sent to the gallows by the industrious apprentice himself. For each plate, there is at least one passage from the Bible at the bottom, most from the Book of Proverbs, such as for the first plate of "Industry and Idleness, shown here, "Proverbs Ch:10 Ver:4 The hand of the diligent maketh rich."

Beer Street and Gin Lane

Later prints of significance include his pictorial warning of the consequences of alcoholism in Beer Street and Gin Lane 1751. Hogarth engraved Beer Street to show a happy city drinking the 'good' beverage, English beer, in contrast to Gin Lane, in which the effects of drinking gin are shown – as a more potent liquor, gin caused more problems for society. People are shown as healthy, happy and prosperous in Beer Street, while in Gin Lane they are scrawny, lazy and careless. The woman at the front of Gin Lane, who lets her baby fall to its death, echoes the tale of Judith Dufour, who strangled her baby so she could sell its clothes for gin money. The prints were published in support of the Gin Act 1751.

Hogarth's friend, the magistrate Henry Fielding, may have enlisted Hogarth to help with propaganda for the Gin Act: Beer Street and Gin Lane were issued shortly after his work An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, and Related Writings, and addressed the same issues.

The Four Stages of Cruelty

Other prints were his outcry against inhumanity in The Four Stages of Cruelty (published 21 February 1751), in which Hogarth depicts the cruel treatment of animals which he saw around him and suggests what will happen to people who carry on in this manner. In the first print, there are scenes of boys torturing dogs, cats and other animals. It centers around a poorly dressed boy commiting a violent act of torture upon a dog, while being pleaded with to stop, and offered food, by another well-dressed boy. A boy behind them has graffitied a hanged stickman figure upon a wall, with the name "Tom Nero" underneath, and is pointing to this dog torturer.

The second shows Tom Nero has grown up to become a Hackney coach driver. His coach has overturned with a heavy load and his horse is lying on the ground, having broken its leg. He is beating it with the handle of his whip; its eye severely wounded. Other people around him are seen abusing their work animals and livestock, and a child is being run over by the wheel of a dray, as the drayman dozes off on the job.

First Stage of Cruelty

In the third print, Tom is shown to be a murderer, surrounded by a mob of accusers. The woman he has apparently killed is lying on the ground, brutally slain, with a trunk and sack of stolen goods near by. One of the accusers holds a letter from the woman to Tom, speaking of how wronging her mistress upsets her conscience, but that she is resolved to do as he would have her, closing with: "I remain yours till death."

The fourth, titled The Reward of Cruelty, shows Tom's withering corpse being publicly dissected by scientists after his execution by hanging; a noose still around his neck. The dissection reflects the Murder Act 1751, which allowed for the public dissection of criminals who had been hanged for murder.


Hogarth was also a popular portrait painter. In 1745 he painted actor David Garrick as Richard III, for which he was paid £200, "which was more", he wrote, "than any English artist ever received for a single portrait." In 1746 a sketch of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, afterwards beheaded on Tower Hill, had an exceptional success. 

In 1740 he created a truthful, vivid full-length portrait of his friend, the philanthropic Captain Coram, for the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now in the Foundling Museum. This portrait, and his unfinished oil sketch of a young fishwoman, entitled The Shrimp Girl National Gallery, London, may be called masterpieces of British painting. There are also portraits of his wife and his two sisters, and of many other people, among them Bishop Hoadly and Bishop Herring.

Historical subjects

For a long period of his life, Hogarth tried to achieve the status of history painter, but had no great success in this field.

Biblical scenes

Hogarth's history pictures include The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan, executed in 1736–1737 for St Bartholomew's Hospital; Moses brought before Pharaoh's Daughter, painted for the Foundling Hospital 1747, formerly at the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now in the Foundling Museum; Paul before Felix 1748 at Lincoln's Inn; and his altarpiece for St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol 1755–56.

The Gate of Calais

The Gate of Calais 1748; now in Tate Britain was produced soon after his return from a visit to France. Horace Walpole wrote that Hogarth had run a great risk to go there since the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle:

he went to France, and was so imprudent as to be taking a sketch of the drawbridge at Calais. He was seized and carried to the governor, where he was forced to prove his vocation by producing several caricatures of the French; particularly a scene of the shore, with an immense piece of beef landing for the Lion d'argent, the English inn at Calais, and several hungry friars following it. They were much diverted with his drawings, and dismissed him.

Back home, he immediately executed a painting of the subject in which he unkindly represented his enemies, the Frenchmen, as cringing, emaciated and superstitious people, while an enormous sirloin of beef arrives, destined for the English inn as a symbol of British prosperity and superiority. He claimed to have painted himself into the picture in the left corner sketching the gate, with a "soldier's hand upon my shoulder", running him in.

Other later works

Notable Hogarth engravings in the 1740s include The Enraged Musician 1741, the six prints of Marriage à-la-mode 1745; executed by French artists under Hogarth's inspection, and The Stage Coach or The Country Inn Yard 1747.

In 1745 Hogarth painted a self-portrait with his pug dog Trump now also in Tate Britain, which shows him as a learned artist supported by volumes of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift. In 1749, he represented the somewhat disorderly English troops on their March of the Guards to Finchley formerly located in Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now Foundling Museum.

Eva Marie Veigel and husband David Garrick, c. 1757–1764, Royal Collection at Windsor Castle

Others works included his ingenious Satire on False Perspective 1754; his satire on canvassing in his Election series 1755–1758; now in Sir John Soane's Museum; his ridicule of the English passion for cockfighting in The Cockpit 1759; his attack on Methodism in Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism 1762; his political anti-war satire in The Times, plate I 1762; and his pessimistic view of all things in Tailpiece, or The Bathos 1764.

In 1757, Hogarth was appointed Serjeant Painter to the King.


Hogarth wrote and published his ideas of artistic design in his book The Analysis of Beauty 1753. In it, he professes to define the principles of beauty and grace which he, a real child of Rococo, saw realized in serpentine lines the Line of Beauty. By some of Hogarth's adherents, the book was praised as a fine deliverance upon aesthetics; by his enemies and rivals, its obscurities and minor errors were made the subject of endless ridicule and caricature.

Painter and engraver of modern moral subjects

Hogarth lived in an age when artwork became increasingly commercialized, being viewed in shop windows, taverns, and public buildings, and sold in printshops. Old hierarchies broke down, and new forms began to flourish: the ballad opera, the bourgeois tragedy, and especially, a new form of fiction called the novel with which authors such as Henry Fielding had great success. Therefore, by that time, Hogarth hit on a new idea: "painting and engraving modern moral subjects ... to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture was my stage", as he himself remarked in his manuscript notes.

The Analysis of Beauty plate 1 (1753)

He drew from the highly moralizing Protestant tradition of Dutch genre painting, and the very vigorous satirical traditions of the English broadsheet and other types of popular print. In England the fine arts had little comedy in them before Hogarth. His prints were expensive, and remained so until early 19th-century reprints brought them to a wider audience.

Parodic borrowings from Old Masters

When analysing the work of the artist as a whole, Ronald Paulson says, "In A Harlot's Progress, every single plate but one is based on Dürer's images of the story of the Virgin and the story of the Passion." In other works, he parodies Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. According to Paulson, Hogarth is subverting the religious establishment and the orthodox belief in an immanent God who intervenes in the lives of people and produces miracles. Indeed, Hogarth was a Deist, a believer in a God who created the universe but takes no direct hand in the lives of his creations. Thus, as a "comic history painter", he often poked fun at the old-fashioned, "beaten" subjects of religious art in his paintings and prints. Hogarth also rejected Lord Shaftesbury's then-current ideal of the classical Greek male in favour of the living, breathing female. He said, "Who but a bigot, even to the antiques, will say that he has not seen faces and necks, hands and arms in living women, that even the Grecian Venus doth but coarsely imitate."

Personal life

On 23 March 1729 Hogarth married Jane Thornhill, daughter of artist Sir James Thornhill.

Hogarth was initiated as a Freemason before 1728 in the Lodge at the Hand and Apple Tree Tavern, Little Queen Street, and later belonged to the Carrier Stone Lodge and the Grand Stewards' Lodge; the latter still possesses the 'Hogarth Jewel' which Hogarth designed for the Lodge's Master to wear. Today the original is in storage and a replica is worn by the Master of the Lodge. Freemasonry was a theme in some of Hogarth's work, most notably 'Night', the fourth in the quartet of paintings later released as engravings collectively entitled the Four Times of the Day.

A William Hogarth portrait of Jane

His main home was in Leicester Square then known as Leicester Fields, but he bought a country retreat in Chiswick in 1749, the house now known as Hogarth's House and preserved as a museum, and spent time there for the rest of his life. The Hogarths had no children, although they fostered foundling children. He was a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

Among his friends and acquaintances were many English artists and satirists of the period, such as Francis Hayman, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne.


On 25 October 1764, Hogarth was conveyed from his villa in Chiswick to his home in Leicester Fields, in weak condition. He had been in a weakened state for a while by this time, but was said to be in a cheerful mood and was even still working—with some help; doing more retouches on The Bench on this same day. On 26 October, he received a letter from Benjamin Franklin and wrote up a rough draught in reply. Before going to bed that evening, he'd boasted about eating a pound of beefsteaks for dinner and reportedly looked more robust than he had in a while at this time. However, when he went to bed, he suddenly began vomiting; something that caused him to ring his bell so forcefully that it broke. Hogarth passed away around two hours later, in the arms of his servant, Mrs Mary Lewis. John Nichols claimed that he died of an aneurysm, which he said took place in the "chest." Horace Walpole claimed that he died of "a dropsy of his breast."

Mrs Lewis, who stayed on with Jane Hogarth in Leicester Fields, was the only non-familial person acknowledged financially in Hogarth's will and was left £100 (approximately £18,651.61 in 2020) for her "faithful services."

Hogarth was buried at St. Nicholas Church, Chiswick, now in the west of London. His friend, actor David Garrick, composed the following inscription for his tombstone:

Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach'd the noblest point of Art
Whose pictur'd Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart.

If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,
If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:
If neither move thee, turn away,
For Hogarth's honour'd dust lies here.


Influence and reputation

Hogarth's works were a direct influence on John Collier, who was known as the "Lancashire Hogarth". The spread of Hogarth's prints throughout Europe, together with the depiction of popular scenes from his prints in faked Hogarth prints, influenced Continental book illustration through the 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in Germany and France. He also influenced many caricaturists of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Hogarth's influence lives on today as artists continue to draw inspiration from his work.

Hogarth's paintings and prints have provided the subject matter for several other works. For example, Gavin Gordon's 1935 ballet The Rake's Progress, to choreography by Ninette de Valois, was based directly on Hogarth's series of paintings of that title. Igor Stravinsky's 1951 opera The Rake's Progress, with libretto by W. H. Auden, was less literally inspired by the same series. Hogarth's engravings also inspired the BBC radio play The Midnight House by Jonathan Hall, based on the M. R. James ghost story "The Mezzotint" and first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2006.

Tomb of William and Jane Hogarth in Chiswick

Russell Banks' short story "Indisposed" is a fictional account of Hogarth's infidelity as told from the viewpoint of his wife, Jane. Hogarth was the lead character in Nick Dear's play The Art of Success, whilst he is played by Toby Jones in the 2006 television film A Harlot's Progress.

Hogarth's House in Chiswick, west London, is now a museum; the major road junction next to it is named the Hogarth Roundabout. In 2014 both Hogarth's House and the Foundling Museum held special exhibitions to mark the 250th anniversary of his death. In 2019, Sir John Soane's Museum, which owns both The Rake's Progress and The Humours of an Election, held an exhibition which assembled all Hogarth's series of paintings, and his series of engravings, in one place for the first time.

Selected works

  • William Hogarth's paintings
  • Before, 1731
  • After, 1731
  • Portrait of Inigo Jones, English Architect
  • The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox, 1729
  • The Beggar's Opera VI, 1731, Tate Britain's version 22.5 x 30 ins.
  • Southwark Fair, 1733
  • William Jones, the Mathematician, 1740
  • Hogarth's Portrait of Captain Thomas Coram, 1740
  • Miss Mary Edwards 1742
  • The Shrimp Girl 1740–1745
  • The Gate of Calais also known as, O the Roast Beef of Old England, 1749
  • March of the Guards to Finchley 1750, a satirical depiction of troops mustered to defend London from the 1745 Jacobite rebellion
  • Hogarth Painting the Comic Muse. A self-portrait depicting Hogarth painting Thalia, the muse of comedy and pastoral poetry, 1757–1758
  • The Bench, 1758
  • Hogarth's Servants, mid-1750s.
  • An Election Entertainment featuring the anti-Gregorian calendar banner "Give us our Eleven Days", 1755.
  • William Hogarth's Election series, Humours of an Election, plate 2
  • The Sleeping Congregation, 1728, Minneapolis Institute of Art
  • An early print of 1724, A Just View of the British Stage
  • Industry and Idleness, plate 11, The Idle 'Prentice executed at Tyburn
  • William Hogarth's engraving of the Jacobite Lord Lovat prior to his execution
  • Hogarth's satirical engraving of the radical politician John Wilkes.
  • Engraving, Before the 1736 print, based on the earlier "oyl"
  • Engraving, After

More facts

Gender: Male
Best Known For: A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode
Fulfilled his Potential: Yes
Number of spouses: 1
First Marriage To: Jane Thornhill
Father’s Name: Richard Hogarth
Father’s Occupation: Latin school teacher and textbook writer
Mother’s Name: Anne Gibbons
Citizen Of: United Kingdom
Museums: Hogarths House

Bedlam (1946)

Notorious Gentleman (1945)

The Rake's Progress (1939)

William Hogarth
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