William Hogarth was an English painter and printmaker who poignantly commented the English society of the eighteenth century with biting satire. The career and life of Hogarth were as unusual as his prints.
William was born as the son of a shopkeeper (his mother) and a schoolmaster and publisher. The youth of William was overshadowed by the chronic financial problems of his father, who was even imprisoned because of his debts. This humiliating experience formed Hogarth for the rest of his life.
Hogarth started an apprenticeship as a silversmith in 1714, but never finished it. He then tried his luck as an independent engraver for copper plates. His early commissions were for cards, book illustrations and single prints. In 1720, he registered at the John Vanderbank Art Academy. Around 1726 or earlier, he was taught painting by James Thornhill whose daughter he later married. He earned some reputation for theater decoration paintings.
Hogarth experienced his first big financial success with A Harlot's Progress, a series of paintings from which he produced engravings in 1732. Only the engravings survived. The paintings were lost in a fire in 1755.
A Harlot's Progress is a set of 6 prints about the hapless life of a prostitute. It was a completely new kind of genre prints that were referred as moral history subjects.
After the big success of A Harlot's Progress, Hogarth published a male counterpart series, A Rake's Progress - a story in eight plates showing the decline of a promising young man into a life of drinking and immoral behavior.
In 1743, the painting series Marriage à la Mode was completed. It is considered his masterpiece. In Marriage à la Mode Hogarth turned his satire on the follies of the upper classes. The theme of this series is about marriage for money. Although the prints of Marriage à la Mode sold well, the paintings did not. Therefore all prints designed afterwards, were created exclusively as print designs without any painted counterparts.
In 1747 followed the series Industry and Idleness, a moral story of an idle and an industrious apprentice in twelve plates.
In 1753 Hogarth wrote his book The Analysis of Beauty, a wrap-up of his artistic and esthetic principles.
Hogarth was a very controversial and individual character. Driven by a sense for justice, he missed no chance to get into a quarrel with his contemporaries. His most hated enemy was the British politician John Wilkes, whom he had ridiculed in one of his engravings. William Hogarth died on October 26, 1764.
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