xxxxxThe English painter and engraver William Hogarth was the first British painter of repute. He was a particularly fine portrait artist -
WILLIAM HOGARTH 1697 -
xxxxxThe painter and engraver William Hogarth was the first British painter of repute and, arguably, the finest of Britain's pictorial satirists and moralists. He produced, in fact, a large number of fine character portraits, but he is best remembered today for his genre scenes, all illustrating in stark reality the London of his day. In these he pulled no punches, satirising the corruption, vices and follies of contemporary life as no artist had done before and only few have done since. Little escaped his keen observation, and many of his paintings (or series of paintings) were produced with some moral lesson in mind, together with a generous helping of dry, caustic humour. Made into engravings, such picture narratives as The Rake's Progress (1735), Marriage à la Mode, The Election, and Gin Lane became hugely popular and were sold widely by subscription. (In the self-
xxxxxHe was born in London and, save for a short visit to France, lived his entire life there. Following the failure of his father's business, the whole family was imprisoned for debt over a period of some five years, and this gave the young Hogarth, then in his teens, a depressing insight into the seamier side of city life, a section of society that he came to depict so successfully in later years. At the age of 16 he began work as an apprentice to a silver plate engraver, but in 1720 he cut short his training and set up his own business. Recognition came six years later when he produced engravings for the poem Hudibras, the work of the English poet Samuel Butler. Then further success came in 1728 when he completed a number of oil paintings -
xxxxxIt was soon after this that he began painting his famous social scenes of London life. Produced as paintings and then made into engravings, these provided what he himself called "a punctual paymaster". His first series of 1732, A Harlot's Progress, traced in six episodes the downfall of a country girl on arrival in London, and this was soon followed by A Rake's Progress, the story of a young man who spends his time in riotous living, and ends up in a lunatic asylum. Both drove home the lessons to be learnt, as did his graphic masterpiece Gin Lane, an engraving of 1751 specifically intended to "reform some reigning vices peculiar to the lower Class of People". But it is perhaps in his six paintings entitled Marriage à la Mode, produced as engravings in 1745 and taking to task the hypocrisy surrounding the marriage of convenience, that his close regard to detail and the savagery of his satire are seen at their best. And deserving of special mention, too, is his The Election, a series of four exuberant works which chronicles in boisterous style the corruption and violence that were endemic in the politics of that time.
xxxxxApart from his acute observations on contemporary life, he also attempted historical and biblical themes on a grand scale, such as the highly ornamental murals produced for St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the March of the Guards towards Scotland (1746), and his Sigismonda Mourning over the Heart of Guiscardo, now in the Tate Gallery, London. Whilst he was not totally at ease in this type of work, he excelled in portraiture, a field in which he has not been accorded, perhaps, the credit he deserves. He was particularly accomplished at portraying children -
xxxxxHogarth was a great admirer of the history painter Sir James Thornhill, the first English-
xxxxxIn 1751 he retired to his house in Hogarth Lane, Chiswick (now a museum), and two years later produced his Analysis of Beauty, a treatise setting out his artistic principles based on lines of beauty and grace. In 1757 he was appointed sergeant painter to George II, but his last years were somewhat marred by an acrimonious dispute with the English political reformer John Wilkes. He died at his home in Chiswick, and his monument bears a moving epitaph by his close friend, the actor David Garrick. Talented artist though he was, his immediate influence was limited. As the English painter John Constable later observed, "Hogarth has no school, nor has he ever been imitated with tolerable success". Today, however, he is seen as the most accomplished English painter before Reynolds and Gainsborough, and without equal in his combined skills as a painter and engraver.
xxxxxIncidentally, alarmed at the widespread pirating of his prints by unscrupulous printers and publishers, Hogarth campaigned long and loud for an Engravers' Copyright Act (sometimes called the Hogarth Act) and was gratified to see it passed through Parliament in 1735.
xxxxxThe English artist Sir James Thornhill (1676-
xxxxxAmong his portraits were those of Isaac Newton and Richard Steele. He served three monarchs, Queen Anne, and the first two Georges, and he was knighted in 1720. He was a Member of Parliament from 1722 to 1734. Hogarth married his daughter, Jane, in 1729, and the following year the two artists produced a group portrait of the members of the House of Commons.
xxxxxIncidentally, thexlargest painting in the world was produced in 1846 by the American painter John Banvard (1815-
xxxxxOne of Hogarth's outstanding portraits was that of his friend, the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram (1668-
xxxxxOne of Hogarth's outstanding portraits (here illustrated) was that of his friend, the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram (1668-
xxxxxHogarth became one of the governors of this hospital and sold some of his pictures in aid of the charity. In addition, when the building was completed in 1745 (illustrated), he persuaded a number of fellow artists to display some of their works there so as to encourage the public to visit the "exhibition" and contribute towards the running costs of the hospital. This was the first public showing of contemporary art in Britain, and paved the way for the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768. Among other notables who assisted the work of the charity was the German-
xxxxxIncidentally, the 18th century saw a large increase in the number of hospitals in Britain. Eleven were established in London, 37 in the provinces, and nine in Scotland.
xxxxxAnother successful portrait painter at this time was the Scotsman Allan Ramsay (1713-
xxxxxAnother talented portrait artist at this time was the Scottish painter Allan Ramsay (1713-
xxxxxShown here, (left to right) are: Jean Abercromby (Mrs Morison of Haddo), the Countess of Cavan, the Countess of Stafford, Miss Craigie and Lady Banff.
xxxxxApart from painting, Ramsay was a member of Samuel Johnson's literary circle and, as such, played a prominent part in the intellectual life of London, especially from the 1760s onwards. Amongst those with whom he corresponded were Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau -
and Allan Ramsay