Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Memoriam: William Hogarth

The modern world owes much to William Hogarth; considered the first artist to create sequential drawings in pursuit of a storytelling aim, he can be considered as the father of the comic strip and thence the graphic novel. As skilled a painter as he was an engraver, his works staked out a place in the middle class where they could both entertain and enlighten the whole of the social strata...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in London on this day in 1697, it was William Hogarth's good fortune to be born in interesting times. The rise of industrialization and urbanization gave his biting satire much on which to chew; they were prosperous times as well, and a burgeoning leisure class was willing to pay good money to be immortalized by him, even if it meant also being lampooned into the deal. When he was paid the then-exorbitant sum of £200 for a single portrait in 1746 - which represented several years' wages for a working man - it wasn't a royal or other aristocrat who ponied up the dough but one of the new aristocrats - an actor, David Garrick.

Hogarth's works (as all great art must) both commented upon and influenced society and its attendant culture; A Harlot's Progress and its companion A Rake's Progress (both 1731) demonstrate the corrosive effects of capitalism upon morality, while also functioning as a stern rebuke of the dangers inherent in a dissipated sexuality. Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751) shows the difference between the happy English society that was and the miserable one that replaced it when the public's favour shifted from beer to gin; in the same year The Four Stages of Cruelty limned one of Hogarth's favourite subject, namely man's inhumanity to man (and, by extension, animal and planet).

About the only field of endeavour in which he was not successful was as a history painter, although, in the years since his death in October 1764 these paintings of his have come to be well-appreciated, proving that not only were his works timeless but ahead of their time as well.
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