William Hogarth (1697 – 1764) British
Hogarth’s art had obvious literary affinities. Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, was a close friend, who under the influence of Hogarth turned to comic satire, achieving with words what he was doing with images.
He was the first major British artist who dealt with everyday subjects, told compelling stories and with the publication of his ‘The Harlot’s Progress’, ‘Rake’s Progress’, ‘Marriage à la Mode’ and ‘Four stages of Cruelty’ he established himself as a social commentator whose pen drew blood from the follies of man. His treatment of his subjects was remarkable both for their intellectual and their aesthetic qualities. He was a moralist to the core, he had a good sense to avoid being a pedantic.
When British art was largely dominated by foreign artists, he did much to promote the position of native British artists. No English artist painted more prison interiors than Hogarth. The progress of his harlot and rake were a case in the point. They ended up in literal prison cells or in the locked rooms of a mad house. His art never lost – indeed it cherished – the dirty smudges left by life. From his eleventh to his sixteenth year his family languished in the Fleet prison. This humiliation was never to be rubbed out of his psyche. Though he himself never breathed a word of this time of life, the prison was never far away in his paintings and prints. The problem of confinement originating in a childhood trauma was his crucible in almost every aspect of Hogarth’s life and career.
After being apprenticed to a silver engraver he launched as an engraver in 1720. Being ambitious he turned to painting. He was instrumental in drafting engraver’s copyright Act which by 1735 was passed in the House.
A man with a deep sense of his social responsibilities he was at one time the governor of St Bartholoméus Hospital and he founded St Martin’s Lane Academy (1735), a guild for professional artists and a school for young artists.
When he took up ‘Marriage à la Mode’ he went so far as to visit Paris to see French paintings and to employ French engravers. Since the forms and style in general had to be rococo, his final product had to have ‘vrais style fransais’. This was to be the most elaborate of Hogarth’s intellectual structure. (1745).
Throughout his career Hogarth developed in the engraving his interest in the meaning of objects and actions and in the paintings his interest in the essential shapes.
In the ‘Rake’s progress’, the Rakewell in the brothel is portrayed in the composition of the Feast of the Gods; The Rake is related to those epitomes of aristocratic vice – the Roman emperors, self styled gods portrayed on copies after Titian on the wall. The relationship between heroic ideals and common place everyday reality was the basic metaphor explored by the Augustan satirisits like Dryden, Swift and Pope. William Hazlitt as usual was perceptive in his assessment of Hogarth, of whom he said:”Other pictures we see, Hogarth’s we read!!”