Today is the birthday (1697) of William Hogarth, English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called “modern moral subjects.” Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as “Hogarthian.” I’ve used Hogarth’s images many times before here on this blog and I am sure he needs no introduction. His are the images of 18th century England.
William Hogarth was born at Bartholomew Close in London to Richard Hogarth, a poor Latin school teacher and textbook writer, and Anne Gibbons. In his youth he was apprenticed to the engraver Ellis Gamble in Leicester Fields, where he learned to engrave trade cards and similar products. Young Hogarth also took a lively interest in the street life of the metropolis and the London fairs, and amused himself by sketching the characters he saw. Around the same time, his father, who had opened an unsuccessful Latin-speaking coffee house at St John’s Gate, was imprisoned for debt in Fleet Prison for five years. Hogarth never spoke of his father’s imprisonment. He did, however, portray prison life in his famous painting of The Beggar’s Opera.
By April 1720, Hogarth was an engraver in his own right, at first engraving coats of arms, shop bills, and designing plates for booksellers. In 1727, he was hired by Joshua Morris, a tapestry worker, to prepare a design for the Element of Earth. Morris heard that he was “an engraver, and no painter”, and consequently declined the work when completed. Hogarth accordingly sued him for the money in the Westminster Court, where the case was decided in his favor on 28 May 1728. In 1757 he was appointed Serjeant Painter to the King.
In 1731 Hogarth completed the earliest of his series of moral works, a body of work that led to significant recognition. The collection of six scenes was entitled “A Harlot’s Progress” and appeared first as paintings (now lost) before being published as engravings. “A Harlot’s Progress” depicts the fate of a country girl who begins prostituting—the six scenes are chronological, starting with a meeting with a bawd and ending with a funeral ceremony that follows the character’s death from venereal disease.
The inaugural series was an immediate success and was followed in 1735 by the sequel “A Rake’s Progress.” The second installment consisted of eight pictures that depicted the reckless life of Tom Rakewell, the son of a rich merchant, who spends all of his money on luxurious living, services from prostitutes, and gambling—the character’s life ultimately ends in Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam). The original paintings of “A Harlot’s Progress” were destroyed in the fire at Fonthill House in 1755, while “A Rake’s Progress” is displayed in the gallery room at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, UK.
When the success of “A Harlot’s Progress” and “A Rake’s Progress” resulted in numerous pirated reproductions by unscrupulous printsellers, Hogarth lobbied in parliament for greater legal control over the reproduction of his and other artists’ work. The result was the Engravers’ Copyright Act (known as ‘Hogarth’s Act’), which became law on 25 June 1735 and was the first copyright law to deal with visual works as well as the first to recognize the authorial rights of an individual artist.
In the twelve prints of “Industry and Idleness” (1747) Hogarth shows the progression in the lives of two apprentices, one of whom is dedicated and hard working, while the other, who is idle, commits crime and is eventually executed. This shows the work ethic of Protestant England, where those who work hard get rewarded, such as the industrious apprentice who becomes Sheriff (plate 8), Alderman (plate 10), and finally the Lord Mayor of London in the last plate in the series. The idle apprentice, who begins “at play in the church yard” (plate 3), holes up “in a Garrett with a Common Prostitute” after turning highwayman (plate 7) and “executed at Tyburn” (plate 11). The idle apprentice is sent to the gallows by the industrious apprentice himself.
Later prints of significance include his pictorial warning of the consequences of alcoholism in Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751). Hogarth engraved Beer Street to show a happy city drinking the ‘good’ beverage, English beer, in contrast to Gin Lane, in which the effects of drinking gin are shown – as a more potent liquor, gin caused more problems for society. People are shown as healthy, happy and prosperous in Beer Street, while in Gin Lane they are scrawny, lazy and careless. The woman at the front of Gin Lane, who lets her baby fall to its death, echoes the tale of Judith Dufour, who strangled her baby so she could sell its clothes for gin money. The prints were published in support of the Gin Act 1751. Hogarth’s friend, the magistrate Henry Fielding, may have enlisted Hogarth to help with propaganda for the Gin Act: Beer Street and Gin Lane were issued shortly after his work An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, and Related Writings, and addressed the same issues.
In 1745 Hogarth painted a self-portrait with his pug dog (now also in Tate Britain), which shows him as a learned artist supported by volumes of Shakespeare, Milton and Swift (top image). In 1749, he represented the somewhat disorderly English troops on their March of the Guards to Finchley (formerly located in Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, now Foundling Museum).
Others works included his ingenious Satire on False Perspective (1753); his satire on canvassing in his Election series (1755–1758; now in Sir John Soane’s Museum); his ridicule of the English passion for cockfighting in The Cockpit (1759); his attack on Methodism in Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism (1762); his political anti-war satire in The Times, plate I (1762); and his pessimistic view of all things in Tailpiece, or The Bathos (1764).
Hogarth wrote and published his ideas of artistic design in his book The Analysis of Beauty (1753). In it, he professes to define the principles of beauty and grace which he, a true child of Rococo, saw realized in serpentine lines (the Line of Beauty). By some of Hogarth’s adherents, the book was praised as a fine discourse on aesthetics; by his enemies and rivals, its obscurities and minor errors were made the subject of endless ridicule and caricature.
Hogarth lived in an age when artwork became increasingly commercialized, being viewed in shop windows, taverns, and public buildings, and sold in printshops. Old hierarchies broke down, and new forms began to flourish: the ballad opera, the bourgeois tragedy, and especially, a new form of fiction called the novel with which authors such as Henry Fielding had great success. Therefore, by that time, Hogarth hit on a new idea: “painting and engraving modern moral subjects … to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture was my stage”, as he himself remarked in his manuscript notes.
He drew from the highly moralizing Protestant tradition of Dutch genre painting, and the very vigorous satirical traditions of the English broadsheet and other types of popular print. In England the fine arts had little comedy in them before Hogarth. His prints were expensive, and remained so until early 19th-century reprints brought them to a wider audience.
When analyzing the work of the artist as a whole, Ronald Paulson says, “In A Harlot’s Progress, every single plate but one is based on Dürer’s images of the story of the Virgin and the story of the Passion.” In other works, he parodies Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” According to Paulson, Hogarth is subverting the religious establishment and the orthodox belief in an immanent God who intervenes in the lives of people and produces miracles. Indeed, Hogarth was a Deist, a believer in a God who created the universe but takes no direct hand in the lives of his creations. Thus, as a “comic history painter”, he often poked fun at the old-fashioned, well-worn, and now hackneyed subjects of religious art in his paintings and prints. Hogarth also rejected Lord Shaftesbury’s then-current ideal of the classical Greek male in favor of the living, breathing female. He said, “Who but a bigot, even to the antiques, will say that he has not seen faces and necks, hands and arms in living women, that even the Grecian Venus doth but coarsely imitate.”
Hogarth died in London on 26 October 1764 and was buried at St. Nicholas Church, Chiswick, London.
“The Gate of Calais” (1748; now in Tate Britain) was produced soon after his return from a visit to France. Horace Walpole wrote that Hogarth had run a great risk to go there since the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle:
. . . he went to France, and was so imprudent as to be taking a sketch of the drawbridge at Calais. He was seized and carried to the governor, where he was forced to prove his vocation by producing several caricatures of the French; particularly a scene of the shore, with an immense piece of beef landing for the lion d’argent, the English inn at Calais, and several hungry friars following it. They were much diverted with his drawings, and dismissed him.
Back home, he immediately executed a painting of the subject in which he unkindly represented his enemies, the Frenchmen, as cringing, emaciated and superstitious people, while an enormous sirloin of beef arrives, destined for the English inn as a symbol of British prosperity and superiority. He claimed to have painted himself into the picture in the left corner sketching the gate, with a “soldier’s hand upon my shoulder”, running him in.
So roast beef and Yorkshire pudding plus all the trimmings it is !! I’ve talked about this before, but this time I’ll concentrate on the vegetables. I like to cook the meat quickly in a very hot oven (200°C) for about 45 minutes for a 3-4 lb joint. I cook the Yorkshire pudding in individual ramekins for about 10 minutes whilst the beef is resting after coming out of the oven. Resting before carving is absolutely crucial so that the juices evenly distribute after the fiery heat of the oven. “Roasties” have always been a big favorite in my house – crisply browned potatoes with a floury inside. You only get this if you have a very hot oven and roast the potatoes in a pan with lard or duck/goose fat (which I almost always have on hand). In the same pan I usually put a couple of whole, peeled onions, and leeks cut in 4” pieces. Parsnips are also excellent roasted. Carrots work well with beef too although I’m more inclined to use them in beef stews than roasts. I find it just works well to have a roast medley along with the beef and gravy, plus a poached green vegetable, usually spinach or Brussels sprouts, for balance. Keep your salads for a different meal. This is the roast beef of Old England – not French trash !!