John Wilkes, Esq,. by William Hogarth, drawn from life and etched in Aquafortis, 1969 Parliament.
William Hogarth, (born November 10, 1697, London, England—died October 26, 1764, London), the first great English-born artist to attract admiration abroad, best known for his moral and satirical engravings and paintings—e.g., A Rake’s Progress (eight scenes,1733). His attempts to build a reputation as a history painter and portraitist, however, met with financial disappointment, and his aesthetic theories had more influence in Romantic literature than in painting.
n 1734, Hogarth reestablished his drawing school on a cooperative basis, and it became an important arena for artistic discussion and experiment. In 1735, in line with the humanitarian concern that occupied enlightened opinion of the day, he was elected a governor of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and he seized this opportunity to decorate the main staircase with two large religious works, Pool of Bethesda (1736) and The Good Samaritan (1737). In abandoning comic narrative and genre for history painting, he was generally held to have overreached himself, however, and modern critics have tended to endorse this opinion.
About 1740 he turned once again to painting portraits, chiefly of middle-class sitters. He derived special enjoyment from painting the full-length, seated portrait of his friend, the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram—a compelling and deeply sympathetic image that injected the dead aristocratic tradition with forthright realism and carried far-reaching implications for European portraiture. Hogarth, well aware of its importance, judiciously placed it on semipublic display at the Foundling Hospital, a benevolent institution for orphan children established by Coram in 1739. From the start Hogarth played an active role in the affairs of this charitable venture, and when the buildings were completed in 1745 he persuaded a group of fellow artists to join him in contributing paintings as edifying decoration. Their cooperative effort produced the first public exhibition of contemporary art in England and was a vital step toward the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768.
The famous self-portrait of 1745, a year that marked, in many ways, the high point of Hogarth’s career, was also an artistic manifesto. He mischievously juxtaposed his own blunt and intelligent features with those of his sturdy pug dog, Trump, and placed volumes of the great English writers William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Jonathan Swift beside a palette inscribed with the sinuous “line of beauty,” his shorthand symbol for the variety, intricacy, and expressiveness of Nature. In the same year he published the long-announced prints of Marriage à la Mode, censuring the marriage customs of the upper classes, for which he had completed the paintings in May 1743.