William Hogarth was an English painter, social critic, pictorial satirist, and printmaker. A versatile artist, Hogarth produced portraits, historical scenes, religious subjects, and series of moralizing art. He became known for dealing with political matters in his satires, working extensively with engraving as a way to disseminate his work. This part of his production was known enough for "Hogarthian" becoming an adjective to satirical work. Hogarth also wrote and published studies regarding aesthetics....
William Hogarth was an English painter, social critic, pictorial satirist, and printmaker. A versatile artist, Hogarth produced portraits, historical scenes, religious subjects, and series of moralizing art. He became known for dealing with political matters in his satires, working extensively with engraving as a way to disseminate his work. This part of his production was known enough for "Hogarthian" becoming an adjective to satirical work. Hogarth also wrote and published studies regarding aesthetics.
William Hogarth was born in November 1697 in London, England. He was born into a poor family. His father was first a Latin school teacher and later ran an unsuccessful Latin-speaking coffee house owner, which led him to debt. This economic instability ended up making Hogarth's family move from residence to residence when he was young. Later, his father was imprisoned because of his debts.
In his childhood, Hogarth was apprenticed under Ellis Gamble, an engraver in Leicester Fields, where he learned to engrave mostly for trade cards and products. Gamble worked with silver, which represented Hogarth's initial artistic education, working with the engraving of designs. Young Hogarth also felt a keen interest in observing the street life of the metropolis, as well as sketching the people he encountered.
When his father was taken by the authorities, both the artist and his mother had to make ends meet. This period lasted for four years, and they were relocated to an impoverished area. His family situation and the closeness to poverty are probably the early seeds of the political implications of his later work. Working as a youngling, living in a poor neighborhood, and being curious about his environment, William Hogarth knew the urban landscape and its characters well.
He later became a member of the Rose and Crown Club, a group of artists, collectors, and connoisseurs, along with George Vertue, Peter Tillemans, and Michael Dahl. Young artists gravitated around the club as a way to make their professional networks and share their insights.
A Career as an Engraver
By 1720, Hogarth was already an engraver in his own right. At first, he produced mostly commercial jobs such as engraving shop bills, coats of arms, and designing plates for booksellers. He left his master to open his own shop and continued working mainly with designs for small businesses. He also worked with children's illustrations.
The British artist started to attend painting and drawing classes in 1724 to refine his skills. Sir James Thornhill was his tutor, a painter that worked mainly with historical themes. Thornhill was influenced by the Baroque, and his manner incorporated the chiaroscuro. He was the first artist that received the title of Sir and worked extensively as a decorator of cathedrals and aristocrat interiors.
Hogarth's early work was self-published engravings, a decision he made to avoid dealing with publishers. Themes ranged from foreign cultural influences on the British, personal feuds, the mocking of the state of theater, the shift to the Neo-Classical style in painting, and themes related to economics. In that way, the artist was dealing directly with political and regional subjects. Unfortunately, those subjects made him gather some animosity towards him, which later had the effect of impairing any ties with the Royal family.
Those early engravings can be considered somewhat like a cartoon, regarding its satirical, political critics and composition. His work entitled Emblematical Print on the South Sea, also known as the South Sea Bubble, was created after the notorious English market crash of 1720, when several English people lost a lot of their economies. Other notable artworks of his early career are The Lottery and A Just View of the English Stage.
Beginning as a Painter
In 1727, Hogarth was hired by a tapestry worker called Joshua Morris to execute a design for him. Morris later understood that Hogarth was, in fact, an engraver and not a painter, consequently making Morris decline the work after its completion. Hogarth then sued his client, but the case was decided in his favor. Morris's argumentation was that the painting was unfinished. His first documented painting, The Beggar's Opera, was used as an example of how the artist was more than capable of concluding a successful painting.
In 1729, William Hogarth married Jane Thornhill, the daughter of his master, which he had a happy relationship with according to documents. The couple didn't have any children and alternated between living in London and the countryside. This proves that the engraver turned painter close to his mentor and that their relationship was lifelong.
During the subsequent years, Hogarth started to produce informal group portraits called conversation pieces. Those works were reminiscent of the party scenes that artists such as Jean-Antoine Watteau depicted. While those artworks were necessary so the painter could hone his skills in depicting social interaction, he wasn't well-remunerated for them. He painted several portraits of chief actors of the time. The artist would also portray Sarah Malcolm In Prison, an English murderer convicted for multiple homicides, whom Hogarth sketched only a couple of days before her execution.
Fame and Maturity
Starting in 1731, Hogarth began to produce a series of moralizing art, which granted him significant recognition. Probably the pivotal example of said artwork is entitled A Harlot's Progress, which told the story of a young country girl who travels to the city and becomes a prostitute. Said series, comprising six images, began with a scene of her meeting with a bawd and ended with her death, a victim of venereal diseases. A Harlot's Progress was followed by another series, A Rake's Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode. Looking for a way of popularizing his work, he transformed every one of the paintings prints, which he sold.
This was the painter's first series that resulted in financial success and had a good impression on the critics. Slowly but steadily, the artist found a voice of his own, learning with his master's technique. The social environments Rococo paintings fused with the traditional British humor turned into acid and satirical portrayals. The series was so successful that William and Jane moved to another neighborhood.
His prints became so popular that copies were made by other engravers and sold cheaper. These replicas weren't produced with the same detail and treatment as his originals, thus damaging his reputation as an artist. This situation made Hogarth organize himself politically with the parliament. The Engraving Copyright Act passed in 1735, protecting engravers and their artistic work legally.
After Sir Thornhill died in 1734, William organized a collaborative drawing school, named St. Martin's Lane Academy, in a coffee house with the same name. The Lane Academy served as a space of discussion and learning between artists. Before the Royal Academy's foundation, it was the leading institution for art education in London.
Later Years and Death
When elected in 1735 as the governor of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the artist's focus changed towards historical painting and portraits of the middle class. Some of Hogarth's critics thought he wasn't capable of dealing with historical subjects, which can be seen in Sir Joshua Reynolds' opinion towards his work.
The artist incorporated this style of marketing and selling his works, in which he made multiple series of the aristocracy and then sold the individual images as etchings. It was the case of his most famous and critically acclaimed work, like The Marriage à La Mode series. As the title indicates, the work mocks and explores a narrative of marriages of convenience, in which an aristocratic family tries to marry their son to a wealthy lady. Hogarth is also known for his portrait of people with their pets. By 1845, the artist created his distinguished The Painter and his Pug.
Sadly for Hogarth, despite his fame with prints, the artist didn't reach reasonable prices for his paintings. This made the British painter bitter towards the art circuit, resulting in greater involvement with social and philanthropic work. He then isolated himself and frequently argued on aesthetic subjects with his opponents.
With these infertile situations regarding the art of painting, William decided to return to printmaking. The artist concluded The Times, two etching prints reminiscent of his early work but done with immense detail, richness of textures through hatching, and unusually elaborate compositions.
William Hogarth died on October 26, 1764, in London.
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