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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

William Hogarth is one of the most famous British artists in history and left behind an important legacy which went far beyond just his impressive technical ability.

This was an artist who perfectly captured life in England during the 18th century, whilst also inserting his own strong sense of humour upon proceedings. Hogarth was from relatively humble beginnings and achieved success through a combination of hard work, natural ability and innovation. His less privileged background allowed him to see the world from a different angle to most other British artists of this time and he had an eye for subtle touches and observations. He was brave too, poking fun at the rich and famous, though not specific individuals and this careful balance allowed him to generate a strong following for his work. The proliferation of prints of his paintings and engravings also allowed his reputation to spread deeper into British society, with more people now able to afford to hang reproductions of his work within their own homes. This also made him a man of the people, and much of his content would also capture the lives of the poor as well as the rich.

This nation had long lived in the shadow of other, more established artistic nations and Hogarth was one of the first British artists to prick interest from abroad. This provided him with another, sizeable market and ultimately his prints would help him to become extremely wealthy within his own lifetime. The use of satire and humour was an exciting development within the art world and there was a charm to some of his scene of figurative portraiture that seemed unique to the country. His decision to produce series of work that ran along a single narrative was also unusual and perhaps can be considered the early version of cartoon strips, though with an artistic style that was much more traditional. A Rake's Progress was one of his best received series and there would normally be a moral tale spread through the artworks. Frequently his paintings would then be released as a series of engravings which allowed many more copies of them to be sold on as prints, with the ports offering access to huge markets outside of his native country.

Hogarth's Law came about as a direct result of the artist complaining of the constant copies of his work that were made by others without his permission. Although these cheaper versions helped to boost his own fame, they did detract from the quality of his own work, whilst also losing him money which instead went to competing engravers. This was an important in British law, creating a form of copyright protection and some of the foundations of this new law would make their way into other national legal frameworks in the coming years. Even today these battles continue to rage, particularly online, but at that time there was no recourse until after he successful lobied for change. It is the new law that many continue to discover the artist's career via, such is the importance of precendence within legal history and also the impact that would spread far and wide soon after. Before the days of the modern media, prints were also an invaluable method for artist to create extra streams of income, when larger projects and commissions could drag on for many months and without regular payments.

Gin Lane and Beer Street are amongst the best known prints from William Hogarth and were a sign of the artist's satirical and symbolic art works, with these specifically addressing the topic of alcoholism and presenting it in a realistically saddening mood. These two prints came about in 1751 at a time when clearly the artist was generally concerned about society's ills and how they had led to such a situation of alcohol abuse. Beer Street and Gin Lane were sequential engraving prints which served to underline the effects of drinking British beer against Gin, with the two works offering highly contrasting after effects from the two different drinks. In a rare sign of the importance of art politically, the Gin Lane art work was published to support the later Gin Act of 1751 which shows the strength of Hogarth as an artist within his own lifetime when most significant artists only achieve academic acceptance and significant prominence after their careers and lives have finished. Beer Street offers British beer in an exceptional light, and something of a healthy choice as opposed to Gin as features in Gin Lane. It is incredible to see an artist getting so involved in political debate, and producing what can essentially be called propaganda, when this was so uncommon in the mid-18th century.

Hogarth may not be the best known artist in British history, but he certainly left a considerable legacy which is seen in other major artists that are themselves exceptionally well known. Beer Street and Gin Lane of 1751 have grown to become the best known engravings from the career of William Hogarth and were a politically motivated series of art works which was joined by his friend, Henry Fielding's An Inquiry into the Late Increase in Robbers. These publications helped to signal the true beginning of satire and the rise of art which was not simply a happy depiction of whatever was fashionable within each period. Many of William Hogarth's most famous pencil drawings and oil paintings can be found throughout this website as well as discussion about the full path of his career and how it helped to influence the overall direction and success of British art within the 18th century, and beyond. The success of William Hogarth can be seen in the modern day by the art galleries and museums which now hold and display his art work all year old.

All of his significant paintings and drawings can be found in some of the most important and impressive art galleries and museums around of the world, with British galleries most frequently holding his career highlights. Within London, galleries such as the Tate Britain place him alongside other great artists from the UK such as John Constable, JMW Turner, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. William Hogarth is generally seen as the first artist to produce sequences of related art works which has since become common place in the careers of so many prolific artists across many countries and art movements. Claude Monet created his Haystacks series which was carefully presented as a sequential series and it was actually William Hogarth who first came up with the idea, as seen in The Four Stages of Cruelty and Marriage à-la-mode.

List of Famous William Hogarth Paintings

Please see below for a summarised list of the best Hogarth paintings that are featured throughout this website.

  • A Just View of the British Stage
  • Beer Street and Gin Lane
  • The Bench
  • Characters and Caricaturas
  • Columbus Breaking the Egg
  • The Distrest Poet
  • Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme
  • The Enraged Musician
  • Five Orders of Periwigs
  • The Four Stages of Cruelty
  • Four Times of the Day
  • The Gate of Calais
  • A Harlot's Progress
  • Hogarth Painting the Comic Muse
  • Humours of an Election
  • Industry and Idleness
  • Line of Beauty
  • The March of the Guards to Finchley
  • Marriage à-la-mode
  • The Marriage Settlement
  • The Tête à Tête
  • The Inspection
  • The Toilette
  • The Bagnio
  • The Lady's Death
  • A Rake's Progress
  • Satire on False Perspective
  • Scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest
  • The Shrimp Girl
  • Sigismunda mourning over the Heart of Guiscardo
  • Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn
  • Taste in High Life