William Hogarth was born in Smithfields in London on 10 November, 1697 to a middle class family. His father Richard was a classical scholar, who went bankrupt during Hogarth’s childhood. Nonetheless, despite – and undoubtedly influenced by – his early life’s mixed fortune, William Hogarth is a well-known name. Even during his lifetime, Hogarth’s work was immensely popular.
But what made William Hogarth so famous, and why is he still so widely remembered today? Here are 10 facts about the infamous English painter, engraver, satirist, social critic and cartoonist.
1. He grew up in prison
Hogarth’s father was a Latin teacher who made text books. Unfortunately, Richard Hogarth was no businessman. He opened a Latin-speaking coffeehouse but within 5 years had gone bankrupt.
His family moved into Fleet prison with him in 1708, where they lived until 1712. Hogarth never forgot his experience in Fleet, which would have been a source of great embarrassment in 18th century society.
2. Hogarth’s job influenced his entry into the art world
As a young man, he was apprenticed to the engraver Ellis Gamble where he learned to engrave trade cards (a kind of early business card) and how to work with silver.
It was during this apprenticeship that Hogarth started paying attention to the world around him. The rich street life of the metropolis, London fairs and theatres provided Hogarth with great amusement and a keen sense for popular entertainment. He soon started sketching the vivid characters he saw.
After 7 years of apprenticeship, he opened his own plate engraving shop aged 23. By 1720, Hogarth was engraving coats of arms, shop bills and designing plates for booksellers.
3. He moved in prestigious art circles
In 1720, Hogarth enrolled at the original St Martin’s Lane Academy in Peter Court, London, run by John Vanderbank, a favourite artist of King George. Alongside Hogarth at St Martin’s were other future figures who would lead English art, such as Joseph Highmore and William Kent.
However in 1724, Vanderbank fled to France escaping debtors. In November that year, Hogarth joined Sir James Thornhill’s art school which would begin a long association between the two men. Thornhill was a court painter, and his Italian Baroque style greatly influenced Hogarth.
4. He published his first satirical print in 1721
Already widely published by 1724, Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme (also known as The South Sea Scheme) is considered not only Hogarth’s first satirical print but England’s first political cartoon.
The piece caricatured a financial scandal in England in 1720–21, when financiers and politicians fraudulently invested in the South Sea trading company on the pretence of reducing national debt. Lots of people lost a lot of money as a result.
5. Hogarth was not afraid to make powerful enemies
Hogarth was a humanist and believed in artistic social integrity. He also felt that art critics celebrated foreign artists and the Great Masters too much, instead of recognising the emerging talent at home in England.
One of the influential figures Hogarth alienated was the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle, an accomplished architect known as the ‘Apollo of the Arts’. Burlington got his own back in 1730, when he put an end to Hogarth’s rise in popularity in court artistic circles.
6. He eloped with Thornhill’s daughter Jane
The besotted pair were married in March 1729, without the permission of Jane’s father. For the next couple of years the relationship with Thornhill was strained, but by 1731 all was forgiven, and Hogarth moved in with Jane at her family house in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden.
The couple did not have any children, but were heavily involved in establishing London’s Foundling Hospital for orphans in 1739.
7. Hogarth laid the foundations for the Royal Academy of Art
Hogarth displayed a portrait of his friend, the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram, at the Foundling Hospital which drew significant attention from the art world. The portrait was rejected traditional styles of painting and instead showcased realism and affection.
Hogarth persuaded fellow artists to join him in contributing paintings to decorate the hospital. Together, they produced England’s first public exhibition of contemporary art – an important step toward founding the Royal Academy in 1768.
8. He’s best known for his moralising works
In 1731, Hogarth completed his first series of moral works leading to widespread recognition. A Harlot’s Progress depicts in 6 scenes the fate of a country girl who begins sex work, ending with a funeral ceremony following her death from venereal disease.
A Rake’s Progress depict the reckless life of Tom Rakewell, a rich merchant’s son. Rakewell spends all of his money on luxury and gambling, ultimately ending as a patient at Bethlem Royal Hospital.
The popularity of both works (the latter of which is today on display at Sir John Soane’s Museum) led Hogarth to pursue copyright protection.
9. He had a pet pug called Trump
The stout pug even made it into the famous artist’s work, featuring in Hogarth’s self portrait aptly named, The Painter and his Pug. The famous self portrait of 1745 marked the high point of Hogarth’s career.
10. The first copyright law was named for him
283 years ago, British Parliament passed Hogarth’s Act. During his lifetime, Hogarth had tirelessly campaigned to protect the rights of artists. To safeguard his livelihood from poorly copied editions, he fought to obtain legislation protecting artist’s copyright, which passed in 1735.
A few months before his death in 1760 he engraved Tailpiece or The Bathos, which sombrely depicted the fall of the artistic world.