Digital Commonwealth

William Hogarth (1697-1764). Prints

Boston Public Library

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William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English painter and printmaker.

Born into a middle class family in London, Hogarth was apprenticed to the engraver Ellis Gamble at age 15. By 1720, he had established his own business as an engraver. During the 1720s, he also studied painting with Sir James Thornhill, a painter of historical subjects who became his father-in-law in 1729.

During this period, increasing social unrest, a growing demand for images, and the development of the novel in literature inspired Hogarth to create works that satirized contemporary society, provided lessons in morality, and served as cautionary tales for his fellow countrymen. Over the course of his career, he produced multiple series of paintings that dealt with various social issues; these images were then reproduced and widely distributed as engravings.

Included in Boston Public Library’s holdings of prints by Hogarth are his most recognized series, all of which spotlight societal concerns that remain relevant today. The Harlot’s Progress and The Rake’s Progress address the issue of marrying for money and social status as well as the unhappiness and misfortune that the practice can bring to both women and men. The series Industry and Idleness shows the benefits of hard work. The contrasting images of Beer Street and Gin Lane speak to the dangers of overindulgence in alcohol, while the series The Four Stages of Cruelty protests the acts of animal abuse that he saw take place around him.

Hogarth also addressed contemporary English politics in such works as his series Four Prints of an Election. Boston Public Library is fortunate to have not only impressions of the four prints in that series but also the copper plate from which Plate 3, The Polling, was printed.

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