William Hogarth

William Hogarth

William Hogarth, the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher, was born in Smithfield, London, in 1697. Hogarth's father opened a coffee-house in London but the venture was unsuccessful and in 1707 he was confined to Fleet Prison for debt. Hogarth was released five years later during an amnesty.

When Hogarth was sixteen he was apprenticed to Ellis Gamble, a silverplate engraver. By 1720 Hogarth had own business engraving book plates and painting portraits. Around this time Hogarth met the artist, Sir James Thornhill. Impressed by his history paintings, Hogarth made regular visits to Thornhill's free art academy in Covent Garden.

The two men became close friends and Hogarth eventually married Thornhill's daughter, Jane.During the 1720s Hogarth worked for the printseller, Philip Overton. Hogarth also started to produce political satires. In 1726 Hogarth published The Punishments of Lemuel Gulliver, a satire on the prime minister, Robert Walpole.

Hogarth also painted pictures that told a moral story. The first of these, The Harlots Progress (1732), shows the downfall of a country girl at the hands of people living in London. Other examples of this approach included The Rake's Progress (1733-35) and Industry and Idleness (1747).

By the 1730s Hogarth was an established artist but he suffered from printsellers who used his work without paying royalties. In 1735 Hogarth manages to persuade his friends in Parliament to pass the Engravers' Copyright Act. Later that year, Hogarth established St. Martin's Lane Academy, a guild for professional artists and a school for young artists.

After a period painting portraits of the rich and famous, Hogarth returned in 1751 to producing prints of everyday life. Prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane and the Four Stages of Cruelty were extremely popular and sold in large numbers.

In The Election Hogarth produced four pictures that illustrated the Oxfordshire parliamentary election of 1754. Taken together, the four paintings show the evolving sequence of events during election day. The first three paintings, Election Entertainment, Canvassing for Votes and The Polling provides details of the type of corruption that took place in 18th century elections. In the final painting, Chairing the Member the winning Tory candidate's supporters celebrate his victory.

William Hogarth, An Election: Chairing the Member (1754)
William Hogarth, An Election: Chairing the Member (1754)

In 1762 Hogarth published his anti-war satire The Times. This work upset a large number of MPs and one of the country's leading politicians, John Wilkes attacked Hogarth in his newspaper, The North Briton. Hogarth retaliated by producing his engraving, John Wilkes, Esq.In the engraving Wilkes is wearing a horn-like wig and holds his symbolic cap of liberty in such a way as to make a halo for himself.

Soon after producing his print of Wilkes, Hogarth became seriously ill. In July 1763 he had a paralytic seizure but the following year he started work again and in April, 1764, produced his final print Tailpiece: The Bathos (1764).

William Hogarth died on 25th October, 1764.