Friday, February 6, 2015

William Hogarth

An Election Entertainment
oil on canvas
100 x 127 cm
Sir John Soane's Museum, London, United Kingdom

William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an 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".

He was born in London, the son of a Latin teacher. His father opened a coffee-house in London but the venture was unsuccessful and in 1707 he was confined to Fleet Prison for debt. He was released five years later during an amnesty. When he was sixteen he was apprenticed to a silverplate engraver. By 1720 he had own business engraving book plates and painting portraits. During the 1720s he worked for the printseller. He also started to produce political satires and painting pictures that told a moral story. The first of these shows the downfall of a country girl at the hands of people living in London.

By the 1730s he was an established artist but he suffered from printsellers who used his work without paying royalties. In 1735 he manages to persuade his friends in Parliament to pass the Engravers' Copyright Act. Later that year, he established St. Martin's Lane Academy, a guild for professional artists and a school for young artists. After a period painting portraits of the rich and famous, he returned in 1751 to producing prints of everyday life. He produced several series of prints depicting the sordid details of everyday life among the lower classes, and political satire.

With his growing success came a growing interest in using his art to make social and political statements, often targeting the urbanization of London and the ensuing prevalent crime. In 1762 he published his anti-war satire The Times. This work upset a large number of the Member of Parliament and one of the country's leading politicians, John Wilkes attacked him in his newspaper, The North Briton. He retaliated by producing his engraving, John Wilkes, Esq. In the engraving Wilkes is wearing a horn-like wig and holds his symbolic cap of liberty in such a way as to make a halo for himself. Soon after producing his print of Wilkes, he became seriously ill. In 1763 he had a paralytic seizure but the following year he started work again and in 1764, produced his final print.