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"I was born," says Hogarth, in his Memoirs of himself, "in the city of London, November 10, 1697. My father's pen, like that of many authors, did not enable him to do more than put me in a way of shifting for myself. As I had naturally a good eye and a fondness for drawing, shows of all sorts gave me uncommon pleasure when an infant; and mimicry, common to all children, was remarkable in me. An early access to a neighboring painter drew my attention from play, and I was, at every possible opportunity, employed in making drawings. I picked up an acquaintance of the same turn, and soon learned to draw the alphabet with great correctness. My exercises when at school were more remarkable for the ornaments which adorned them than for the exercise itself. In the former I soon found that blockheads with better memories could much surpass me, but for the latter I was particularly distinguished."
Hogarth sketching the Highway of Queenborough.
For some time after the expiration of his apprenticeship, Hogarth continued to practise the trade to which he was bred; and his shop-bills, coats-of-arms, engravings upon tankards, etc., have been collected with an eagerness quite disproportionate to their value. Soon he procured employment in furnishing frontispieces and designs for the booksellers. The most remarkable of these are the plates to an edition of "Hudibras," published in 1726; but even these are of no distinguished merit. About 1728 he began to seek employment as a portrait-painter. Most of his performances were small family pictures, containing several figures, which he calls "Conversation Pieces," from twelve to fifteen inches high. These for a time were very popular, and his practice was considerable, as his price was low. His life-size portraits are few; the most remarkable are that of Captain Coram, in the "Foundling Hospital," and that of Garrick as King Richard III., which is reproduced in the present volume. But his practice as a portrait-painter was not lucrative, nor his popularity lasting. Although many of his likenesses were strong and characteristic, in the representation of beauty, elegance, and high-breeding he was little skilled. The nature of the artist was as uncourtly as his pencil. When Hogarth obtained employment and eminence of another sort through his wonderful prints, he abandoned portrait-painting, with a growl at the jealousy of his professional brethren; and the vanity and blindness of the public.
March 25, 1729, Hogarth contracted a stolen marriage with the only daughter of the once fashionable painter, Sir James Thornhill. The father, for some time implacable, relented at last; and the reconciliation, it is said, was much forwarded by his admiration of the "Harlot's Progress," a series of six prints, commenced in 1731 and published in 1734. The novelty as well as merit of this series of prints won for them extraordinary popularity; and their success encouraged Hogarth to undertake a similar history of the "Rake's Progress," in eight prints, which appeared in 1735. The third, and perhaps the most popular, as it is the least objectionable of these pictorial novels, "Marriage a la Mode," was not engraved till 1745.
The merits of these prints were sufficiently intelligible to the public: their originality and boldness of design, the force and freedom of their execution, rough as it is, won for them an extensive popularity and a rapid and continued sale. The "Harlot's Progress" was the most eminently successful, from its novelty rather than from its superior excellence. Twelve hundred subscribers' names were entered for it; it was dramatized in several forms; and we may note, in illustration of the difference of past and present manners, that fan-mounts were engraved containing miniature copies of the six plates. The merits of the pictures were less obvious to the few who could afford to spend large sums on works of art, and Hogarth, too proud to let them go for prices much below the value which he put upon them, waited for a long time, and waited in vain, for a purchaser. At last he determined to commit them to public sale; but instead of the common method of auction, he devised a new and complex plan with the intention of excluding picture-dealers, and obliging men of rank and wealth who wished to purchase to judge and bid for themselves. The scheme failed, as might have been expected. Nineteen of Hogarth's best pictures, the "Harlot's Progress," the "Rake's Progress," the "Four Times of the Day," and "Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn" produced only 427 7s., not averaging 22 10s. each. The "Harlot's Progress" was purchased by Mr. Beckford at the rate of fourteen guineas a picture; five of the series perished in the fire at Fonthill. The "Rake's Progress" averaged twenty-two guineas a picture; it has passed into the possession of Sir John Soane, at the advanced price of five hundred and seventy guineas. The same eminent architect became the proprietor of the four pictures of an "Election" for the sum of 1,732. "Marriage a la Mode" was disposed of in a similar way in 1750; and on the day of the sale one bidder appeared, who became master of the six pictures, together with their frames, for 115 10s. Mr. Angerstein purchased them, in 1797, for 1,381, and they now form a striking feature in the National Gallery.
The satire of Hogarth was not often of a personal nature; but he knew his own power, and he sometimes exercised it. Two of his prints, "The Times," produced a memorable quarrel between himself, on one side, and Wilkes and Churchhill, on the other. The satire of the prints of "The Times," which were published in 1762, was directed, not against Wilkes himself, but his political friends, Pitt and Temple; nor is it so biting as to have required Wilkes, in defence of his party, to retaliate upon one with whom he had lived in familiar and friendly intercourse. He did so, however, in a number of the North Briton, containing not only abuse of the artist, but unjust and injurious mention of his wife. Hogarth was deeply wounded by this attack; he retorted by the well-known portrait of Wilkes with the cap of liberty, and he afterward represented Churchill as a bear. The quarrel was unworthy the talents either of the painter or poet. It is more to be regretted because its effects, as he himself intimates, were injurious to Hogarth's declining health. The summer of 1764 he spent at Chiswick, and the free air and exercise worked a partial renovation of his strength. The amendment, however, was but temporary, and he died suddenly, October 26th, the day after his return to his London residence in Leicester Square.
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