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Hogarth, William (1697-1763)
by Scholes, Robert


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William Hogarth (1697 - 1763)

One of the great English artists of the eighteenth century, he was born in London, in Bartholomew Close, and educated at home by his father, who was a teacher, and in the local grammar school. At the age of fifteen, he was taken from school and apprenticed to Ellis Gamble, a silver-plate engraver, but he aspired to higher things--engraving on copper. In 1720 he attended John Vanderbank's drawing school and began to extend his artistic range, attaining his shop card by the end of that year and opening his own engraving business. During the 1720s he began to publish satirical engravings, including one on the "South Sea Bubble," a stock fraud not unlike some we have seen in our own century. He began attending the Covent Garden academy of Sir John Thornhill, who painted for the King.

In 1729 he married Thornhill's daughter and began to work in the more upscale mode of portrait painting in oil, but he continued to do satirical subjects as well, making engravings from his own series of paintings called A Harlot's Progress, in 1732. Outraged by the piracy of his work, he pressed for and got enacted the first law protecting the copyrights of engravers and designers. This act of Parliament was called "Hogarth's Act." He completed his most famous series of engravings, The Rake's Progress the day after the Hogarth's Law was enacted. He continued to paint portraits and only settled on making engraving the major focus of his work in the mid 1740s. His successful career continued until his death in 1764. His tombstone in Chiswick Churchyard has an epitaph written by his friend the actor David Garrick, whom he had painted in the role of Richard III in 1746. Modern viewers admire his engravings, but also cherish the quick sketch he made of a girl selling shrimp on the street, which seem to anticipate impressionism, and his witty engraving False Perspective, which definitely anticipates M. C. Escher.

(The notes above are based on the chronology in Sean Shesgreen's Engravings by Hogarth, Dover Press, 1973.)

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