William Hogarth – 1697-1764 by Linda Smith

Hogarth is nowadays mostly remembered as a talented satirist, but there is much more to him than that. He was extremely ambitious in other artistic fields, including portraiture, “history painting”, and art theory. He was also a tireless self-promoter and entrepreneur, with a real and practical concern for the status of his profession.

The Painter and his Pug 1745 

This talk tracked his career from humble copper-plate engraver to successful painter, showing a wide variety of images, demonstrating his exceptional originality and inventiveness. As Linda stressed, however, it is his unparalleled eye for absurdity and human weakness which not only tells us so much about his times, but gives us thought about our own.

Hogarth was born in London, the son of a not very successful schoolmaster, and remained very much a Londoner throughout his life. The entire family was jailed briefly, for debt, and perhaps this affected Hogarth’s outlook on life – certainly he became a man of strong likes and dislikes, hating the French (and their art and architecture), loathing William Kent and his designs, dismissing Methodists, bad-mouthing doctors and lawyers, angered by his lack of success in selling his paintings.


Nevertheless he was presumably happy when his engravings – published in sets of 5, 6 or 7 – proved wildly successful, although even here he was greatly annoyed by his initial inability to copyright them. One of his legacies was the “Engraving Copyright Act” of 1734, which he was instrumental in getting into law.

A Rake’s Progress Plate 4

Other acts of public benefit included his strong support of Captain Thomas Coram as he set up the Foundlings Hospital –  we saw a fine reproduction of Hogarth’s portrait of the Captain – a good-looking man. 

Linda also shone a spotlight on some parts of Hogarth’s best-known engravings, pointing out details that we might otherwise miss – in future we shall all look more carefully at what the characters might be getting up to …

Linda Smith  holds two first class degrees in Art History. In addition to a broad knowledge of art historical subjects, she specialises in British and twentieth century art.  Linda is an experienced lecturer and guide, especially at Tate Britain and Tate Modern. She has spent years lecturing to independent arts societies in the UK and overseas.

Michael Smyrk