Sunday, 11 November 2012


“Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed.” - Albert Einstein

William Hogarth (born Nov. 10, 1697, London, England—died Oct. 26, 1764, London) was the first great English-born artist to attract admiration abroad and best known for his moral and satirical engravings and paintings, eg, “A Rake’s Progress” (eight scenes, begun 1732). His attempts to build a reputation as a history painter and portraitist, however, met with financial disappointment, and his aesthetic theories had more influence in Romantic literature than in painting.

Hogarth is unquestionably one of the greatest English artists and a man of remarkably individual character and thought. He was one of the first the great innovators in English art. On one hand, he was the first to paint themes from Shakespeare, Milton and the theatre, and the founder of a wholly original genre of moral history, which became known as “Hogarthian”. On the other hand, he investigated the aesthetic principles of his art, which resulted in his book “The Analysis of Beauty”(1753).

William Hogarth was the fifth child of Richard Hogarth, a schoolmaster and classical scholar from the north of England who had come to London in the mid-1680s. His father’s premature death in 1718 affected Hogarth’s early life, his training and forced him to earn money. In February 1713, Hogarth began his apprenticeship to a plate engraver, Ellis Gamble, who was a distant relation. By April 1720, he set up an independent business as an engraver. His first works included a number of commissions for small, etched cards and bookplates, and in 1721 he produced two inventive engraved allegories.

With topical prints such as “The South Sea Scheme” and “The Lottery”, which aroused considerable attention, he started his black-and-white satires which made him so widely known in Britain and abroad. His first success as a painter was in the ‘conversational pieces’, in which figure informal groups of family and friends surrounded by customary things from their everyday life. He was not the inventor of the genre, and had many contemporary rivals, but his pictures are marked with his own individuality: “The Fishing Party” (c.1730), “The Wedding of Stephen Bechingham and Mary Cox” (c.1730).

In 1729, he married a daughter of his painting teacher Sir James Thornhill. The scene from “The Beggar’s Opera”, which was the picture of an actual stage, brought him great success,  and at about 1730, he was commissioned for several versions. The result of this accomplishment was the idea of his own ‘theatre’: The creation of ‘pictorial dramas’ which were to reach the wider public through the means of engraving. The first successful series “The Harlot’s Progress”, of which only the engravings now exist (the originals were burnt in 1755), was immediately followed by the tremendous verve of “The Rake’s Progress”; the masterpiece of the story series “The Marriage a la Mode” followed, after an interval of twelve years.

Hogarth’ satires were serious moral and social satires, besides being good paintings. In 1735, he opened his own academy in St. Martyn's Lane. In portraiture, Hogarth displays a great variety and originality such as in portraits of “George Arnold” (c.1740), “Mary Edwards” (1742) and “Bishop Benjamin Hoadly” (1743). The charm of childhood, the ability to compose a vivid group, a delightful delicacy of color appear in “The Graham Children” (1742). The portrait heads of his servants are penetrating studies of character: “Hogarth’s Servants”. (c.1750). The painting of “Captain Thomas Coram” (1740), the philanthropic sea captain who took a leading part in the foundation of the Foundling Hospital, adapts the formality of the ceremonial portrait to a democratic level. The painter’s character is reflected faithfully in his forthright “Self-Portrait with Pug-Dog” (1745).

The quality of Hogarth as an artist is seen to advantage in his sketches and one sketch in particular, the famous “The Shrimp Girl” (c.1740-1743) quickly executed with a limited range of colour, stands alone in his work, taking its place among the masterpieces of the world in its harmony of form and content, its freshness and vitality. Hogarth died in 1764 in London and is buried in Chiswick cemetery.

In 1743–1745, William Hogarth painted the six pictures of “Marriage à-la-mode” (National Gallery, London), a pointed skewering of upper class 18th century society. This moralistic warning shows the disastrous results of an ill-considered marriage for money and satirises patronage and aesthetics. This is regarded by many as his finest project, certainly the best example of his serially-planned story cycles. A sort of “soap opera painting series”… In the first of the series, Hogarth shows an arranged marriage between the son of bankrupt Earl Squanderfield and the daughter of a wealthy but miserly city merchant. The son looks indifferent while the merchant’s daughter is distraught and has to be consoled by the lawyer Silvertongue. Even the faces on the walls appear to have misgivings.

In the second, called "The Tête-a-Tête" (shown above), there are signs that the marriage has already begun to break down. The husband and wife appear uninterested in one another, amidst evidence of their separate overindulgences the night before. The Viscount has had a night of debauchery (and the patch on his neck is a sign of syphilis), while the Viscountess has had a night of gambling on the card tables (but with whom?) Her pose is rather unladylike and her contentment may suggest that she was indeed in the arms of her lover. A distraught steward with a handful of unpaid bills walks off to the left, his eyes turned heavenward, knowing full well these won’t be paid in a hurry. The servant in the other room looks befuddled and is clearly not well supervised or directed.

The third in the series shows the Viscount visiting a quack with a young prostitute. The viscount, unhappy with the mercury pills meant to cure his syphilis, demands a refund while the young prostitute next to him dabs an open sore on her mouth, an early sign of syphilis.

In the fourth, the old Earl has died and the son is now the new Earl and his wife, the Countess. As was the very height of fashion at the time, the Countess is holding a “Toilette’, or reception, in her bedroom. The lawyer Silvertongue from the first painting is reclining next to the Countess, suggesting the existence of an affair. This point is furthered by the child in front of the pair, pointing to the horns on the statue of Actaeon, a symbol of cuckoldry. Paintings in the background include the biblical story of Lot and his daughters, Jupiter and Io, and the rape of Ganymede.

Next, the new Earl catches his wife in a bagnio with her lover, the lawyer, and is fatally wounded by the lawyer. As she begs forgiveness from the stricken man, the murderer in his nightshirt makes a hasty exit through the window. A picture of a woman with a squirrel on her hand hanging behind the countess contains lewd undertones.

Finally the Countess poisons herself in her grief and poverty-stricken widowhood, after her lover is hanged at Tyburn for murdering her husband. An old woman carrying her baby allows the child to give her a kiss, but the mark on her cheek and the caliper on her leg suggest that disease has been passed onto the next generation…

1 comment:

  1. I love almost all of Hogarth's work, but I didn't ever know that as far back as 1713, Hogarth began his apprenticeship to a plate engraver.

    This might explain why his images were so minutely realised; the detail was fantastic. If a person can engrave well in silver, drawing will be a doddle.