William Hogarth

William Hogarth was one of the greatest of English artists and a man of remarkably individual character and thought.

William Hogarth was born in 1697 near the East End cattle market of Smithfield. His father was a school master who made an unsuccessful attempt to open a Latin-speaking coffeehouse, which left the family bankrupt, Richard confined to Fleet Prison, and the young William fending for himself. To earn some money, William Hogarth started an apprenticeship with Ellis Gamble at a silver workshop in 1713 as a plate engraver. After apprenticing Hogarth opened his own print shop. In 1720 Hogarth joined the St. Martin's Lane Academy, it was the decisive step in his training as a painter. During this period of intense activity as an engraver, he laid the foundation for his remarkable knowledge of prints, including reproductions of the Old Masters.

The artist’s first widespread notice came with the publication of The South Sea Scheme (1721), ridiculing the greed and corruption of stock market speculators. 

 In 1720 Hogarth joined the St. Martin's Lane Academy, it was the decisive step in his training as a painter. During this period of intense activity as an engraver, he laid the foundation for his remarkable knowledge of prints, including reproductions of the Old Masters.

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. Hogarth kept close ties with James Thornhill, an English baroque painter of the time and in 1723 he joined and helped establish Thornhill's English School of Painting.  The two men became close friends and Hogarth eventually married Thornhill's daughter, Jane.

By 1728 Hogarth was ready to make his debut as a painter, and he quickly established a reputation as a master of the conversation piece.  By the 1730s Hogarth was an established artist and his genius became conspicuously known. So, though the subsequent developments of painting in the eighteenth century do not follow directly from Hogarth, he made them possible, and he is rightly considered the founder of the modern English school of painting.

At the end of his life he was ill. He spent his last months working on his autobiography, and died on 26th October 1764. 

Hogarth suffered from a paralytic seizure and became seriously ill. He passed away in London in 1764 at the age of 67 and is buried in Chiswick cemetery.

In his creative work Hogarth was heavily influenced by 18th century life, culture and his middle-class upbringing. He believed that art should have moral as well as aesthetic qualities and tried to bring this into all the work he produced.

Hogarth's works fall naturally into four categories: conversation pieces, satirical moralities, portraits, and historical paintings.

Conversation Pieces

These qualities are seen even in his small conversation pieces, with which he began his career as a painter. Conversation piece is a term for an informal group portrait. They are distinguished by their portrayal of the group apparently engaged in genteel conversation or some activity In these pictures his sense of character and humour are both rather cramped, and the edge of his wit is blunted, and they appeal to one as often as not through that element of the ridiculous which has crept in unawares quite as much as by the perfect fulfilment of the conditions of this difficult genre. 

A Midnight Modern Conversation can be an example of such paintings. In this work the artist humorously satirizes the activities that took place in the drinking clubs that had sprung up in early eighteenth-century London to cater to a male clientele drawn from the middle and professional classes.

The Wollaston Family, Hogarth achieves a remarkable success by creating a social drama. Mr. Wollaston is uniting two separate groups by drawing the attention of one table to the Card-playing of another, the focus of this genial unity is Mr. Wollaston’s gesturing hand and his acknowledged position as host.  

Satirical Morality Pictures

Hogarth felt the cramping limitations of this genre himself, and he soon turned from conversation pieces to the various series of moralities, in which his individual powers had much greater scope, though the purely story-telling element in them sometimes a little obscures his gifts as a draughtsman, colourist, and designer. Hogarth was never a caricaturist, and he never falls into the error of making the characters in his satire mere personifications of some vice or virtue. With all the teeming fecundity of his grotesque invention he never loses sight of reality and, however much his characters may be given over to avarice, drunkenness, or gluttony, they remain human beings with other potentialities of vice or virtue. They are conceived in the round, and not as changeless cardboard profiles. 

Hogarth's immediate aim in these pictures was to tell a story with a moral. To make his characters tell the story as clearly and emphatically as possible he employs poses, gestures, and groupings which are more than merely natural, and he invented a form for his picture in which action is stylized to give the utmost expressiveness within the limits of the medium. When we examine his pictures inch by inch we find that they are full of clues to the story, and that they can be read as well as looked at.  This genre of moral history was long known as Hogarthian.

A Harlot's Progress (also known as The Harlot's Progress) is a series of six paintings. The series shows the story of a young woman, Mary (or Moll) Hackabout, who arrives in London from the country and becomes a prostitute.

In his series “A Rakes Progress” William Horgarth tells the of  Tom Rakewell who has inherited a lot of money from his dead father and how he goes about spending it an irresponsible manner.  This story is a morality tale. A story about how someone behaves towards other people.

Marriage à-la-mode consists of six pictures depicting upper class 18th century society. This moralistic warning shows the disastrous results of an ill-considered marriage for money and satirizes patronage and aesthetics. This is regarded by many as Hogarth’s finest project. 


William Hogarth was also a brilliant portraitist. All his portraits, even the most formal and official, have an acute sense of character, and are direct and manly presentations devoid of affectation or pretence. The group of portrait heads of his own servants is the most sympathetic of all. Hogarth obviously felt quite free from all restraint in painting these, and they have an intimacy and tenderness rather rare in his work, but whioh peeps out occasionally even in the satires. Here the various characters are most subtly differentiated, and it is possible to read from the picture very clearly the relationship between Hogarth and his various servants. 

In the portrait "Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat", Hogarth created the finest rogue in all his gallery of scoundrels. This picture stands between his moralities and the rest of his portraits, and is one of his masterpieces. This picture contains most of the virtues of the portraits and the moralities.

You are likely to know Hogarth’s portrait "The Shrimp Girl". But it can hardly be called a portrait, and this brilliant sketch stands quite alone in Hogarth's work, both in sentiment and technique. It is entirely without satire, and cannot even be called a character study, it is simply a radiant expression of sheer joy in life, a joy which informs every swift and gracious stroke of the brush and fixes a fleeting beauty on the wing. Hogarth's art never reached a higher point than this. Technically it is quite unlike his other work.

Historical paintings

During a long period of his life, Hogarth tried to achieve the status of history painter, but had no great success in this field. Examples of his history pictures are the two Biblical subjects (The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan) Moses brought before Pharaoh's Daughter.

Hogarth was a social painter who produced his own pictorial drama composition comprising various scenes of society's social life. His art was a reflection and interpretation on the social condition of his time.

The success of William Hogarth can be seen in the modern day by the art galleries and museums which now hold and display his art work all year old. All of his significant paintings and drawings can be found in some of the most important and impressive art galleries and museums around of the world. Hogarth's major works are in England. More than half of his works belong to the British MuseumThe original paintings of Rake’s progress are in the collection of the Soane Museumin London. In New York City the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection possess examples of his work.