William Hogarth: Biography, Paintings & Engravings

Instructor: Lilly Do

Lilly Do possesses a MA in English and teaches English composition in higher education.

William Hogarth became an established painter and engraver during the early and mid-1700s. This lesson will discuss how his life influenced the satirical and expressive nature of his paintings and engravings.

Introduction

William Hogarth is known for his satirical paintings and engravings. Hogarth paid particular attention to facial expressions in his works, inspiring many to delve into his paintings for multi-layered moral messages. In this lesson, we'll examine how Hogarth's life as a copper engraver and later as a painter influenced his painted subjects' expressions.

Biography

Self-Portrait of William Hogarth
Self-Portrait of William Hogarth

Born November 10, 1697, William Hogarth was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and schoolmaster. Apprenticed to a silver plate engraver at fifteen, Hogarth set up shop of his own at twenty-three while attending a drawing school in St. Martin's Lane. Because of his natural distaste for copying live models, however, Hogarth's interest in expressive values of imitation quickly evolved, leading to his later affiliation with Sir James Thornhill's drawing school.

Even though Hogarth was an established artist by the 1730s, he was often at odds with print sellers, who used his work without compensation. In response, Hogarth often commented and critiqued the art establishment, especially in his collection of theories, The Analysis of Beauty. Although auctions of his work fetched a low price during his lifetime, Hogarth continued to paint portraits for various patrons and then returned to producing prints of everyday London life in 1751.

Art Style and Paintings

The best way to examine Hogarth's works, whether you're looking at his paintings or engravings, is through a satirical and expressive lens. In Aestheticism in Art, Hogarth tells the reader that 'the face is the index of the mind.' In other words, facial expression is the best way of spotting and analyzing a person's character. Hogarth takes full advantage of this maxim through his satirical paintings, such as his series Marriage a-la-mode.

The Marriage Settlement 1743
Hogarth painting The Marriage Settlement

Through the six paintings of Marriage a-la-mode, Hogarth pokes fun at and critiques the idealization of an upper-class arranged marriage in 18th century society. For example, the first of the series, titled The Marriage Settlement, depicts the bankrupt Earl Squanderfield consulting with his usurers while proudly pointing to his family tree. The couple of the arranged marriage is pushed to the side of the painting, the groom-to-be staring intently into the mirror and the future bride polishing her ring and talking to her lawyer.

Taking a closer look at this painting, you'll see that the expressions of all of Hogarth's subjects, including the chained dogs on the floor and the paintings on the wall, add to the painter's satirical purpose - both to comment upon economical marriages and artistic patronage.

Engravings with a Moral Message

Hogarth's moral messages appear not only through his paintings but through his engravings as well. Aimed at a more 'unrefined' audience, Hogarth's prints were cut using wood blocks for wider distribution. In his four-painting series, The Four Stages of Cruelty, Hogarth uses bolder lines and stronger accents to accentuate the growing stages of an immoral murderer. Starting with a boy expressing his cruelty toward animals, each painting escalates with the boy, Tom Nero, growing up to be a cruel laborer then a murderer.

The Reward of Cruelty-1751
Hogarth painting The Reward of Cruelty

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