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United Kingdom • 1697−1764

Biography and information

Biography and information

The English painter William Hogarth may seem a meticulous and tedious moralizer if you judge him by his moralizing paintings. Vice is exposed in all series of his paintings - “The Harlot's Progress”, “ A Rake's Progress ”, “Marriage A-la-Mode” - and the subjects of his pictures are brought to an explainable (with their way of life!) deplorable ending. But the biography of Hogarth shows that he was neither a bore nor a hypocrite. Rather, he was quite the opposite...

The parents of the future artist moved to London from the province. If you want an example of true British eccentricity, then here is Richard Hogarth. In fact, he was a rural teacher who taught Latin to schoolchildren, but for some best known for him reason he was convinced that in future he would certainly occupy an important state post. Richard's eldest son was ambitiously named William in honor of King William III.

Hogarth-father rushed into all sorts of adventures without looking back and often got into debt. For example, his idea to open a restaurant in which all visitors would communicate exclusively in Latin failed miserably. His wife, Anne Gibbons, with four children, tried to sell some herbs and potions, and her teenage son William helped her. But this did not save the family from financial collapse. For the repeated breach of debt, Richard Hograth was sentenced to imprisonment in the Fleet prison.

Built in the 12th century, the prison was a truly legendary institution. There were times when it housed the metaphysical poet John Donne, the famous Puritan preacher Henry Barrow, and Charles Dickens put in this prison Samuel Pickwick, the main character of his novel “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club”. Since the 18th century, the prison has received a narrow specialization to reform debtors and bankrupts. Hogarth's father got caught there in 1708. The only consolation was that Richard's family went to prison with him. British laws allowed prisoners not to stay apart from the loved ones, so in the prison there were barracks for their wives and children. That was how the 11-year-old William received an important life experience: in a penitentiary facility he could observe the inhabitants of the London "bottom" - thieves, prostitutes, drunkards, tramps and scammers. Many of them would subsequently glorify Hogarth by being depicted on the artist’s engravings or canvases.

Hogarth recalled how while being in prison he developed his memory by training to "keep an object in his mind's eye." This would become his own method - to draw from memory rather than directly from nature.

Seeing how observant William was and how well he painted, after leaving the facility, his father sent him to study under the famous engraver-gilder Ellis Gamble. There, Hogarth learned to cut metal, decorate with monograms, ciphers and emblems various household items, from dishes to silver snuff-boxes.

Hograt was 23 years old when his father died. To support his mother and younger sisters, William decided to open his own business. In addition to what he did in Gamble’s workshop, Hogarth began to produce genre engravings and soon he realized that they were exactly what the audience was interested in.

One of his first engravings was «Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme». Now it’s not easy for us to figure out what the crowd indulging in low-lying entertainment like a hellish carousel depicted there means. But the contemporaries understood very well that the satire of Hogarth was aimed at the failed commercial South Sea Company, which had bankrupted many of its shareholders.

Hogarth's engravings gained popularity because they were witty, topical, and most importantly, inexpensive: one print costed about a shilling.

Inspired by the fact that his work resonated with the audience, Hogarth decided to study painting and entered one of the private London art academies. Though, he was quickly disappointed with the endless copying of old Italians, sketching heads and torsos. He found this superfluous and boring, and he was the student who successful least in a historical genre.

The only contemporary William would like to study under was the royal painter James Thornhill, the first English artist who received the nobility. Hogarth left the academy and enrolled in Thornhill's workshop. The maestro was quite pleased with the student, when a scandal broke out. Hogarth fell in love with his daughter, 19-year-old Jane, kidnapped her and in 1729 they secretly married. At first, Thornhill was furious, but over time, according to biographers, he opened “both his heart and his wallet” for his son-in-law: for example, they worked together to decorate the famous Vauxhall Gardens on the River Thames, and after that Hogarth acquired public perception of an excellent decorator.

But the real fame brought him a cycle of six paintings "Harlot's Progress" - an instructive story of the provincial Mary, who fell into the abyss of London vice. The paintings will burn in the fire of 1755, but Hogarth’s own engravings will be preserved. The popularity of the Hogarth’s harlot went wild. She was redrawn on cups and plates, stamped on fans. When the entrepreneurial (unlike his unlucky father) Hogarth announced a subscription to his engravings, almost half a thousand people immediately signed up for the «Harlot's Progress» series. Inspired by the success, Hogarth announced a subscription to the next series of 8 works, which he called "The Rake's Progress".

The original was the idea of Hogarth to combine several paintings with a cross-cutting subject. In addition, he used theatrical techniques in painting. As a good play, the Hogarth’s serieses have a central line and several side lines, the subjects have expressive faces and gestures, and the viewer was invited to follow the change of stage scenes and scenery. "My Picture was my Stage, and men and women were my actors", - that was how Hogarth described the method he invented. Contemporaries testified that there were almost no houses left in London, where Hogarth's instructive engravings could not been found.

To search for new types for his paintings and engravings, Hogarth liked to roam the streets of London, and he did not disdain vain places and slums. He made fluent sketches directly on his hands and sometimes on his nails. Though, no one but himself could understand what these dashes and strokes meant.

Hogarth also painted portraits, which were a bit ironic, but life-affirming. «The Shrimp Girl» and «Hogarth's Servants» are the best of them.

Self-portrait of William Hogarth of 1745 «The Painter and his Pug» is one of a kind. Someone paints his own figure in a religious subject, someone portrays himself at work, with a palette and brushes in his hands, and Hogarth captured his pug in the foreground, and put himself only in the bachground. A dog is by no means an allegory: Hogarth just could not stand them, believing that art should have complete clarity and no riddles for the viewer. The artist simply loved animals very much. When one of the dogs or birds living in his house in the London suburb of Chiswick was dying, Hogarth arranged a solemn funeral right in his yard.

Hogarth loved animals, but he was much more critical of people. Legends circulated about his cocky and quarrelsome character.

Fellow artists did not like Hogarth for his, as it seemed to them, exorbitant conceit and vanity. In 1743, Hogarth arrived at Paris, but was expelled from there and accused of espionage, although the real reason was his politically incorrect statements about French art. Hogarth did not recognize the authority of the past. It got to contemporaries too - for excessive prettiness, which often covered the void. In response, competitors drew evil cartoons on Hogarth. However, he had idols. Having become rich and having bought a huge house, the artist erected a gilded bust of Van Dyck in front of it. If someone, wanting to flatter the owner, called him as great as Van Dyck, Hogarth was not modest: “There he was in the right! I am, give me my time, and let me choose my subject!”

Most of all, Hogarth was annoyed by imitators and unscrupulous merchants. Hogarth barely had time to finish a work - and it had already been copied by mediocre engravers, and the book-sellers put it into circulation at half price. Everyone won in financial gain except for Hogarth himself. Then Hogarth appealed to the British Parliament. He prepared a bill according to which for 14 years no one had the right to duplicate images without the consent of the artist. The project was approved by King Henry II, thought it was accepted only 13 years afterwards. The Hogarth Act was the first document in Europe to protect the copyright of artists and engravers.

Hogarth left interesting memories, as well as a wonderful art treatise “Analysis of Beauty” (1753), which has not lost its relevance to this day.

The artist died on October 26, 1764 and was buried in London.

Author: Anna Vcherashnyaya