William Hogarth Biography

William Hogarth will be remembered as the father of satirical caricatures and moral paintings, a genre which would later develop into cartoons. His determination and stout middle-class values made him one of the most innovative artists of his generation and he brought art to the common man for the first time in history.

Hogarth gained popularity for his morality paintings. He also produced work in a variety of other genres including portraiture and biblical/historical pieces.

The artist 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. He tried to bring this into all the work he produced. Having lived in debtors' lodging for five years as a very young boy, Hogarth had seen the harder side of life and brought a sense of gritty realism to all his paintings. What he believed to be the deterioration of British morals particularly concerned him and his satirical engravings illustrate his concerns for his fellow countrymen. As Hogarth became a prominent figure in the London art scene he was influenced by a number of things. These included politics, art, literature and the theatre.

William Hogarth Artistic Context

Hogarth lived and worked during the Rococo period in 18th century London. The Rococo style was popular in both England and France at this time and was embodied by flowing lines and intricate decoration.

The London social scene that features in so much of Hogarth's work ranged from super-rich aristocrats living flamboyant lifestyles to the incredibly poor working-classes with no money and little hope for a better life.

Rather than be influenced by many of the artists who had gone before him, Hogarth, a true innovator, tried to create a new school of English painting to rival the Old Masters of the Renaissance. In fact, rather than be influenced by their work it has been suggested that he often ridiculed them.

Far from being a positive influence, this style of painting pushed Hogarth to produce work of a completely different genre.

Technological advances were very influential in Hogarth's success and without the further development of the printing press his work would not have been anywhere near as lucrative, as it wouldn't have been accessible to people from the middle and lower classes.

Although Hogarth was a skilled portrait painter he became famous for his engravings which were sold in large numbers to people who would not have been able to previously afford art.

In the 19th century the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood was inspired by Hogarth's use of symbolism and text to convey a moral message. However it is possibly the biggest testament to the artist's skill and wit that the new medium of the comic strip arose from his work, a genre which is still popular today. 

William Hogarth Early Years

Born the son of Richard Hogarth and Ann Gibbons on 10th November 1697, William was the fifth child of the family. His father was a classically trained school master specializing in Latin and his family very much relied on him as the main breadwinner. However, by 1707, an unprofitable coffeehouse business set up by Richard left him in Fleet Prison for debt. He remained there until 1712 and unfortunately, died only a few years later in 1718.

To earn some money, William Hogarth started an apprenticeship with Ellis Gamble in 1713 as a plate engraver and by 1720 he had his own independent plate engraving business.

Through this work Hogarth met with the artist Sir James Thornhill and was a regular attendee at Thornhill's art academy based in Covent Garden.

Hogarth's time there was his only formal training in art and during this period he produced his most prized work, of a series of illustrations of Samuel Butler's 'Hudibras'.

During the 1720s Hogarth continued to make a series of engravings of scenes from popular theatre shows, demonstrating the earliest signs of the satirical work to come. Works such as The South Sea Scheme and The Lottery, both produced in 1721, show Hogarth's wit and both pieces were helped establish Hogarth's reputation as an artist in London. As one of the first British artists to be recognized throughout Europe, Hogarth became a major source of inspiration to other artists. During his lifetime artists and satirists such as John Collier emulated his satire and reflections of everyday life.

William Hogarth Middle Years

Hogarth ran his own academy from 1735 to 1755 and it was considered to be an important forerunner to the Royal Academy, which opened in 1768. From 1731 onwards, Hogarth produced what was to become known as his 'modern morality paintings. These were specifically designed to be copied in large numbers and sold as prints to members of the public. The most well-known series' are A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress. These prints proved to be very popular and went on to be reprinted. A Harlot's Progress was even made into a pantomime.

William Hogarth had summer lodgings in South Lambert and while holidaying there he met Jonathan Tyers. Tyers asked Hogarth to decorate the interior of the place and the series of paintings he produced, Four Times of the Day, depicted different aspects of London life.

As Hogarth's engravings became popular they were regularly copied and sold on without his permission. Hogarth used his parliamentary contacts to encourage a Copyright Act of 1735 and this made copying work without permission illegal.

Between 1740 and 1745 Hogarth focused on portraits and received commissions from the rich and influential elite of London society. Portraits of The Graham Children and Captain Coram are particularly skillful. However, it is in Hogarth's sketches such as The Shrimp Girl and Heads of Six of Hogarth's Servants that he really excels.

In 1748 Hogarth created The Roast Beef of Old England after an eventful trip to the French port of Calais. After entering the port as a tourist the artist began sketching the fortifications. This drew the attention of the French police who accused him of being a spy. On his return to England Hogarth painted less than flattering political paintings about the French, perhaps reaffirming his distaste for the continent. Hogarth was at the height of his career at this point and was making a good living from his printed works and portraiture. He then tried his hand at historical painting but this venture wasn't very successful and he received a lot of criticism for attempting something which many of his contemporaries believed was above him. 

William Hogarth Advanced Years

In 1757 Hogarth's brother-in-law resigned as sergeant painter to the court and Hogarth took the role accordingly. In 1762 Hogarth published an anti-war satire 'The Times' which caused outrage from one prominent MP in particular, John Wilkes. He published a scathing article dismissing Hogarth's work in his newspaper The North Briton. In response Hogarth created an engraving, John Wilkes Esq. showing the MP wearing a symbolic cap of liberty.. In July 1673, not long after printing the John Wilkes Esq. engraving, 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. He left no children. 

William Hogarth Style and Technique

Hogarth was a trained engraver in the Rococo fashion and his art contained strong remnants of the Rococo style.


Hogarth's work often focused on what was happening in 18th century London and the foibles, scandal and political events of the day.


Hogarth's use of color is usually confined to a warm palette featuring reds, yellows and ochre. The artist often used large amounts of brown and dark blues in order create shadow and movement within the piece.


Frequently creating busy canvases, Hogarth used a range of different characters to display a narrative within the painting.


Hogarth's technique could be described as the embodiment of the Rococo style. In his portraits and historical paintings he uses lose, flowing strokes.

The Analysis of Beauty: 

In 1753 Hogarth wrote The Analysis of Beauty a book designed to illustrate his theories surrounding the definition of beauty in his time. The book had six main principals; 

• Fitness 

• Regularity 

• Variety 

• Intricacy 

• Simplicity 

• Quantity

The principals of this work also relied heavily on what Hogarth described as 'the Line of Beauty', the serpentine line which was incorporated into much of his work.

William Hogarth Who or What Influenced

During his youth, Hogarth was heavily influenced by his father's classical education and the teaching he received from it. He also used to visit an artistic neighbor and sketched there regularly.

His family's Puritan religious beliefs relayed a heavy sense of moral duty on Hogarth at a young age and although he was not very religious himself his moral grounding did not leave him and is very apparent in his work.

Debtor's lodgings: 

Having lived in debtors' lodgings whilst his father resided in jail, Hogarth had seen the harder side of life and brought a sense of gritty realism to all his paintings. What he believed to be the deterioration of British morals particularly concerned him and his satirical engravings in particular show his concerns for his fellow countrymen, presented in a humorous light.

Ellis Gamble: 

Hogarth's time as an apprentice with Ellis Gamble gave him a good grounding in the Rococo style which was very popular at the time. This decorative form came to epitomize Hogarth's work and he wrote about its importance in his published works, Analysis of Beauty.

Flemish Artists (17th Century): 

Hogarth was influenced by Flemish artists such as David Teniers and Ryckaert who often painted home interiors and galleries to demonstrate the patron's wealth.

This was especially prevalent in the Rococo period as many of the European countries were attaining an abundance of wealth from their new colonies across the globe and many more people wanted to express their wealth through their possessions.

Theatre and Literature: 

Hogarth had a passion for art in all forms and would frequently portray the various scenes of well-known plays of the day through his painting series or engravings, making a visual spectacle and in the process redefining the concept of the visual narrative to the cartoon.

The first works that earned Hogarth recognition were his series of painting of Samuel Butler's Hudibras poems. This collection was noted for its excellent expression, the fine detail in the scenes and the symbolism that accentuated the narrative.


Henry Fielding was a satirist and is thought to have influenced Hogarth's Beer Street and Gin Lane. Fielding is thought to have enlisted Hogarth to produce these pictures as propaganda to raise support for the Gin Act of 1751, limiting the selling of spirits. Hogarth's paintings were used in publications in support of the act, showing the ill effects of liquor such as gin.

The March to Finchley (1749-50)'Inspired by the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, The March to Finchley contrasts the chaotic tangle of thieving, drinking and whoring troops in the foreground with the disciplined lines of men setting out to defend the capital, who march away in the middle distance. Again, Hogarth raises the thorny issue of choice, embodied in the grenadier flanked by the two women in the centre of the composition: duty, reason and restraint are contrasted with disorder, sensual self-gratification and indulgence, Protestantism with Catholicism, patriotic sacrifice with betrayal of national honour. 

The Lady's Last Stake, inspired by Colley Cibber's comedy of the same title first produced in 1707, returns Hogarth to the theme of choice which had been a leitmotif in his work since such early projects as The Beggar's Opera and A Harlot's Progress. The artist himself described the scene as portraying 'a virtuous married lady that has lost all at cards to a young officer, wavering at his suit whether she should part with her honour or no to regain the loss which was offered to her.