A Harlot's Progress
'A Harlot's Progress' (1731).

William Hogarth is widely considered to be one of the "Big Three" of 18th-century cartooning, together with James Gillray and George Cruikshank. David Low even considered him "the grandfather of the political cartoon". Yet Hogarth was actually closer to being a painter than a cartoonist. While he made some caricatures during his career, he mostly brushed full-blown realistic paintings, both in technique as well as content. His work is almost a mirror of 18th-century society in its extensiveness: politics, the judiciary, the theatre, fashions... even the more seamy side of life wasn't avoided: prostitution, alcohol abuse, mental asylums and debtor's prisons. Hogarth both satirized as well as moralized his life and times. What makes him the missing link between painting and cartooning is his use of sequences. Some of his images are part of a conceptual theme and actually tell a story when placed in chronological order. Together with Francis Barlow, who made a similar sequential narrative almost half a century before, Hogarth can be seen as the first prototypical British comic artist.

Early life and work
William Hogarth was born in 1697 at Bartholomew Close, London, as the son of a teacher. While still a child his father was sent to a debtor's prison. This harsh experience opened his eyes to the ills of society and inspired his gritty outlook on life. Hogarth enjoyed sketching people he saw in the streets. He was inspired by classic painters such as Albrecht Dürer, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphaël, Michelangelo, Nicolas Poussin, Jacques Callot, Peter Paul Rubens and his idol: James Thornhill, whose daughter he would marry in 1729. In the 1720s Hogarth started making engravings, working as an apprentice for Ellis Gamble, at the Golden Angel in Cranbourne Street, London. The shopcard Hogarth designed is still extant today. His earliest works already have a satirical edge. 'Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme' (1721) depicts the corruption and credulity which had caused the financial collapse of the South Sea Company. The detailed engraving is full with archetypes of all layers of 18th-century city life, including noblemen, economists, buyers of stock, priests, gamblers, criminals and whores. Another print, 'The Bad Taste of the Town' (1723-1724), tackles fashion, while 'A Just View of the British Stage' (1724) mocks British theatre and is notable for its use of speech balloons. Other works by Hogarth using speech balloons are 'Masquerades and Operas' (1724), 'The Cunicilarii' (1726) and 'A Catalogue of the Kitchin Furniture of John Bull Esqr leaving of House-keeping now' (1762). 

A Just View Of The British Stage
'A Just View of the British Stage' (1724).

Picture stories, or prototypical comics
In 1727 a client ordered Hogarth to make a painting, 'Element of Earth'. When he presented the finished work the man refused to pay, since he assumed that the artist was a professional painter, not "just" an engraver. Hogarth sued and won the case on 8 May 1728. It increased his notability and made the demand for his art rise. In the 1730s Hogarth started making the works he is most famous for today: 'A Harlot's Progress' (1731), 'A Rake's Progress' (1735), 'Four Times Of The Day' (1736), 'Marriage à-la Mode' (1745), 'Industry and Idleness' (1747), 'Beer Street and Gin Lane' (1751) and 'Four Stages of Cruelty' (1751). All feature people leading a life of debauchery or crime who ultimately pay the penalty for their immoral behaviour afterwards. Highly moralistic, the works are of great interest to historians today because they offer a glimpse at both the highest as well as the lowest echelons of 18th-century Britain. To get his message across, one image wasn't enough. He made a minimum of four, maximum six to seven consecutive images per series. Each one allows the viewer to gradually and chronologically follow the downfall of one individual through several significant moments in time.

A Rake's Progress
'A Rake's Progress' (1735).

'A Harlot's Progress' (1731), for instance, depicts in six plates the rise and fall of a young prostitute. We see her selling her body for money, getting arrested for it, succombing to poverty and eventually dying of syphilis at the age of only 23. Her disgrace doesn't end there, though. In the final panel her coffin is used as a tavern bar in a brothel, bringing the story full circle. A male equivalent is told in 'A Rake's Progress' (1735), where a man gradually loses all his money on wine, women and gambling. In the course of eight successive paintings we see him get locked up in a debtor's prison and finally a mental asylum. 'Marriage à-la-mode' (1745) is a similar riches-to-rags story - told in six pictures - where a marriage for money eventually leads to a life of unhappiness. 'The Four Stages of Cruelty' (1751) is the artist's most gruesome morality tale. In four pictures we see how a young boy tortures animals, becomes a criminal in adulthood and is eventually hung at the gallows. His corpse is then used for dissection by surgeons.

Marriage a la Mode by William Hogarth
'Marriage à-la Mode' (1745).

In other works Hogarth uses two parallel stories to contrast the "good" path with the "bad" one. 'Industry and Idleness' (1747) shows in twelve engravings how hard work is rewarded, while idle life leads to misery. Both paths are personified in characters: the good Francis and the lazy good-for-nothing Tom Idle. As the story progresses we see how Francis is rewarded for his noble, devout life, while Tom's spendthrift life leads to ruin. In 'Four Times of the Day' (1736) the wholesome life of rich Londeners is compared to the miserable existence of the poor. Both lifestyles are shown in two pictures each. A similar work is 'Beer Street and Gin Lane' (1751) where the carefree life of beer drinkers is shown on the left. On the right side gin addicts are portrayed as citizens in a city of decay. Amidst all the drunk, mad and poor people we see an intoxicated prostitute with syphilitic sores on her legs. She is so far gone that she doesn't even notice her baby slipping from her arms and plummiting to its doom.

Beer Street and Gin Lane
'Beer Street and Gin Lane' (1751).

Historical significance
Hogarth's practice of telling stories through the use of consecutive paintings can be rooted to his background as a book illustrator. He collaborated with satirical novelist Henry Fielding (best known for 'Tom Jones') and illustrated the frontispiece of his play 'The Tragedy of Tragedies' (1731). In return Fielding wrote an inquiry for Hogarth's prints 'Beer Street and Gin Lane' and 'The Four Stages of Cruelty'. Hogarth's picture stories were very innovative for the time, though not entirely new. Since the dawn of mankind artists have used sequential pictures to tell stories. Some medieval woodcuts about the lives of Roman Catholic saints were also told in several successive images. But most of these works have remained anonymous. Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, Hans Burgkmair the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Jeremias Gath, Hans Holbein the Elder, Hans Holbein the YoungerBartholomäus Käppeler, Caspar Krebs, Georg Kress, Hans Rogel the Elder, Hans Rogel the Younger, Erhard Schön, Johann Schubert, Hans Schultes the Elder, Lucas SchultesElias WellhöferFrans HogenbergAntonio Tempesta, Otto van Veen, Jacques CallotFrancis Barlow and Romeyn de Hooghe are the first known artists whose sequential illustrated narratives we can identify by a signature. Late 15th-century, early 16th-century German painter Hans Holbein the Elder and Dutch 17th-century painter Otto van Veen are among the few artists who made paintings that have to put in a certain chronological order to read as a narrative. But even these artists only made one or a couple of sequential illustrations. Most didn't always frame different events in their stories in separate images. Often, the same characters are shown at different moments in time, within one and the same image. This often confuses the modern-day reader, who mistakes them as being different characters. 

Hogarth, on the other hand, made several sequential narratives! And not just split in two images, but spread over four to sometimes seven or eight pictures. His works are much closer to actual stories than the paintings and engravings of his predecessors. There is a clear "start" as well as an often bleak "ending". In each image we see the same character(s) reoccur. Since Hogarth doesn't cram all the events in one image it's much easier to "read" and understand the narrative. Also important to notice is that his narratives are entirely based on self-created fictious characters, rather than real-life politicians, biblical characters or Greco-Roman mythological beings. In short, no other prototypical comic artist comes closer to our notion of a "modern" comic creator than Hogarth. And while we don't have any personal account by Bosch, Bruegel, Hogenberg, Callot, Barlow or De Hooghe to get insight in their train of thought, Hogarth left us this revealing commentary: "I wished to compose pictures on canvas, similar to representations on the stage. I have endeavoured to treat my subject as a dramatic writer; my picture is my stage, and men and women my players, who by means of certain actions and gestures are to exhibit a dumb show."

The Enraged Musician by William Hogarth
'The Enraged Musician' (1740).

Parody and satire
Some of Hogarth's work is directly comparable to humorous cartoons, such as 'The Enraged Musician' (1740), in which a practicing violinist is disturbed by noisy people outside, including a squawking parrot, a barking dog, a mother with her bawling baby, street vendors, a boy playing a drum, a girl with a rattle, a man moaning with tooth ache, a paviour and a knife grinder. 'The Distrest Poet' (1741) is a tragicomic oil painting depicting a poor poet suffering from writer's block, while his wife darns clothes, his child cries, his dog steals his last food away and the milkmaid is at the door to complain about an unpaid bill. 'The Bench' (1758) is a humorous caricature of four pompous judges in court, while 'Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism' (1762) lampoons a Methodist preacher who holds marionets of a witch and a devil in his hands.

Hogarth also delighted in parody. 'A Harlot's Progress' spoofs certain poses found in paintings by Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo Da Vinci. 'Five Orders of Periwigs' (1761) satirizes the wig fashions of his day, while spoofing the Greco-Roman canon of beauty. 'Humours of an Election' (1755) is comparable to a political comic strip. In four narrative paintings the viewer is treated to a satirical depiction of political candidates preparing for election, polling and eventually getting their votes. It's an interesting document of 18th-century politics, but also timeless in its depiction of naïve voters and dishonest corrupt government officials. In the first image, 'An Election Entertainment', we see a candidate being forced to kiss an ugly, but potential female voter. Another politician is bored to death by listening to a drunk, while another vote-seeker collapses from eating too much oysters. The most amusing detail is an election agent hit by a brick thrown through the window, which knocks him out of his chair. In the next two images, 'Canvassing for Votes' and 'The Polling' politicians are bribing and even bringing in mentally disabled and dying people in a desperate attempt to get more votes. In the final image, 'Chairing the Member', a victorious candidate is carried around on a chair, but about to fall down because one of the carriers accidentally hit his head. The ceremony is further disgraced by a group of pigs running amok and two chimney sweeps urinating on a bear.

Humours of an Election by William Hogarth
'Humours of an Election' (1755).

Hogarth's paintings and engravings were already very popular at the time. Prints were commercially distributed all over Europe. 'A Harlot's Progress' in particular inspired a pantomime play, a ballad opera, pamphlets and poems, making it probably the first "comic strip" with adaptations in other media. It even inspired merchandising. Images from the work were painted on fan-mounts and duplicated on tea cups and saucers. The surest sign of its popularity was the fact that it was pirated and plagiarized. In 1735 Hogarth added another "first" in comic history to his name when he procured an Act of Parliament to prohibit illegal copies of his work. It established the Engravers' Copyright Act: the first time in history that the copyrights of an individual artist were legally protected.  In 1757 Hogarth was even appointed official painter of the British monarchy, an honour no other cartoonist has ever received since. Posthumously Hogarth was also the first comic artist to have his work serialized in a magazine. William Heath and John Watson's The Comick Magazine, which first saw light on 1 April 1796, featured reprints of William Hogarth's picture stories, but only published one illustration a month. Between 13 January and 17 February 1828 a pirate version of 'A Harlot's Progress' was printed with one plate per week in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle. A Gallery of Comicalities reduced every image to just 2 by 3 inches (50 mm x 75mm) with lengthy typset captions under each image.

Characters and Caricatures
'Characters and Caricatures' (1743).

Controversy and criticism
Like any artist Hogarth received his share of criticism. Some people felt he was more a cartoonist than a genuine artist. He replied by making 'Characters and Caricatures' (1743): a drawing of numerous faces - some caricatures, some realistic portrayals - which not only showed his detractors the difference between the two art styles, but also proved he was able to do both. It's also another clear example of sequential art, with the "naturalistic" portrait appearing right next to the caricature. In 1748 Hogarth visited France, where he sketched the gate of Calais, until he was arrested by local authorities under the suspicion of being a spy. He was brought before the governor, but told them he was just an artist. After being forced to draw some very specific sketches, he was allowed to return home. Back in England Hogarth immediately ventilated his anger by making a painting called 'The Gate of Calais'. It depicts people carrying a sirloin of beef to an English inn in Calais. The local French villagers are so starved that they all stare at the meat. Some, including some Catholic priests, even worship the food. In the left corner Hogarth depicted himself sketching, with the hand of the soldier about to arrest him on his shoulder.

'The March of the Guards to Finchly' (1760) satirized the army and was originally intended as a gift for George III of England. But the monarch felt insulted that his troops were ridiculed and rejected it. Hogarth therefore donated it to Frederick II of Prussia, who appreciated it more. The anti-war satire 'The Times' (1762) outraged politician John Wilkes, who attacked Hogarth's work in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth made a cartoon in response, showing the MP wearing a symbolic cap of liberty in such a way that it appears to be a halo, while his wig looks like demonic horns.

To modern audiences, the criticism of yesteryear directed at Hogarth feels somewhat odd, given that many of his contemporaries drew far more amateurish and vulgar works. Hogarth's distortions of human faces at least understand human anatomy. There is no denying that he was a virtuose artist, able to effortlessly switch from caricature to realism. Even the low-brow scenes in his work are drawn with tasteful elegance. All his paintings and engravings are additionally brimful with significant and symbolic details. They make his work a marvel to look at and still discover new things. It's not surprising that the artist wrote a book , 'The Analysis of Beauty' (1753), about the six principles of artistic beauty, namely fitness, variety, regularity, simplicity, intricacy and quantity. Yet at the time even this was the subject of ridicule. Famous painter Joshua Reynolds described it as "vulgar and limited", while his colleague Paul Sandby caricatured Hogarth as an obese con artist. This negative public reception deeply hurt Hogarth's feelings and he was never quite the same afterwards. 

Satire on False Perspective
'Satire on False Perspective' (1754).

Death, legacy and influence
William Hogarth passed away in 1764, after suffering a seizure a year earlier which paralyzed him. He left behind a rich oeuvre, which is still popular today. He is regarded as one of the finest satirists of all time. His graphic talent places him among the greatest geniuses of the artform. His picture stories are a milestone in the history of comics. In terms of innovation, production quantity and cultural impact he ranks alongside Rodolphe Töpffer, Wilhelm Busch, Richard F. Outcault and Rudolph Dirks as the most significant candidate for the title "first comic artist in history." He was also ahead of other art styles. Hogarth's 'The Shrimp Girl' (1745), is painted in a loose style which preceeds impressionism by a century. Even more mind boggling is 'Satire on False Perspective' (1754), a work full of optical illusions that predates the engravings of M.C. Escher by two centuries.

His vivid style inspired quite some cultural works. 'The Rake's Progress' was made into a ballet (1935) by Gavin Gordon, an opera (1951) by Igor Stravinsky with a libretto by W.H. Auden, and a painting (1961) by David Hockney. 'A Harlot's Progress' was also adapted into an opera (2013) by Iain Bell. In 1971 the BBC made a TV biopic drama series, 'Will the Real Mr. Hogarth....?', based on a script by Gerald Scarfe. The panel 'Tête à Tête' from 'Mariage à la Mode' inspired a scene in Stanley Kubrick's film 'Barry Lyndon' (1975), where the title character strikes the same pose in his chair. Hogarth's name also inspired the eponym "Hogarthian", used to describe depictions of 18th-century England as well as satirical artworks that capture the spirit of a certain historical period.

Celebrity fans of his work were and are Horace Walpole, Henry Fielding, Charles Lamb, William Makepeace Thackeray and Ken Loach. He was an influence on artists like John Collet, John Collier, Cornelis Troost, Carl Michael Bellman, James Gillray (his 'A Rake's Progress at University' [1806] is a parody of Hogarth's 'The Rake's Progress'), Heinrich Zille, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, Josef Danhauser, Ford Madox Brown, Thomas Nast, John Collet, John Raphael Smith, George Morland, James Northcote and most notably Rodolphe Töpffer. As a child Töpffer saw Hogarth's 'Industry and Idleness', which inspired him to make his own picture stories. Artists in later centuries influenced by Hogarth are David Low, Ronald Searle (who made a 1955 text comic under the title 'The Rake's Progress', while his 1973 comic, 'Emergence of MS-tique' is also Hogarthian), Robert Crumb (his adaptation of James Boswell's diary, from Weirdo #3, 1981, is done in a Hogarthian style), S. Clay WilsonGarry Trudeau, Martin Rowson, Steve Bell, Gerald ScarfeOscar de Wit, Graeme MacKay and Adam Dant. His house is nowadays a museum, located in Chiswick, West London.

Painter and his pug by William Hogarth
'Painter and his Pug' (Self-portrait, 1745).

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