William Hogarth (10 November 1697- 26 October 1764) was a British painter, engraver, social critic, and editorial cartoonist. He was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. In his youth, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith and began engraving c.1720. In 1726 he designed twelve large engravings for Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. His earliest paintings were conversation pieces, and he also painted portraits. He was mainly influenced by French and Italian paintings and engraving. In 1732 The Harlot’s Progress introduced his series of paintings of ‘modern moral subjects’ satirizing contemporary customs, social and political vices, and corruption. It includes The Rake’s Progress (1733-5) and Marriage à la Mode (1743–5).
Hogarth’s later engravings, the Industry and Idleness series (1747) and the prints Beer Street and Gin Lane (1750 51), are coarser, and their harsher morality is aimed at a mass market. Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as “Hogarthian”. Hogarth also published a work on aesthetics, The Analysis of Beauty (1753), in which he professes to define the principles of beauty and grace which he, a real child of Rococo, saw realized in serpentine lines.
His series of engravings were immensely successful and im- mediately inspired numerous plays and novels; his success was such that his work was pirated and he was instrumental in obtaining the passage of ‘Hogarth’s Act’ (1735) protecting the copyright of engravers. Hogarth’s works were a direct influence on John Collier, who was known as the “Lancashire Hogarth”.
Henry Fielding became Hogarth’s friend and collaborator in the early 1730s; in his preface to Joseph Andrews (1742), he describes Hogarth as a ‘Comic History-Painter’, defending him against critics who attacked his work as mere caricature or burlesque. Later Tobias Smollett, compared characters and scenes in their novels to the prints of Hogarth. Laurence Sterne was another friend and admirer, and his Tristram Shandy (1759–67) shows the influence of Hogarth’s aesthetics. The artist aroused less interest in the late 18th century but his popularity soared in the early 19th century, with essays by William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb that emphasized his literary qualities. Both Charles Dickens and W. M. Thackeray admired and were influenced by him; Dickens, in the preface to Oliver Twist, writes that he had never met ‘the miserable reality’ of low-life London except in Hogarth. No other British painter has had such close connections with literature; Hogarth’s Portrait of the Painter and his Pug (1745) shows his aggressive image resting on volumes of William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Jonathan Swift and lays claim to his place within a British artistic tradition.
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