Portrait of the Painter and his Pug, 1745.
Photo: © Tate, London, 2014.

Marriage a la Mode 1:
The Marriage Settlement,
National Gallery, London.

The Shrimp Girl, 1745.
National Gallery, London.

A Harlot's Progress 1: Arrival in London, 1732.

A Rake's Progress 2: the Levee, 1733.
Sir John Soane's Museum, London.


William Hogarth O the Roast Beef of Old England (‘The Gate of Calais’), 1748 Photo: © Tate, London, 2014.

William Hogarth (1697-1764), one of the greatest of British artists, lived at a time when foreign artists dominated the domestic scene. Between 1720 and 1770 some 50,000 paintings and 250,000 prints were imported. The patriotic Hogarth fought to oust foreign artists and establish a British School of Art while at the same time introducing new concepts to European art.

Born in London, the son of a Presbyterian school teacher from Cumbria, Hogarth’s later moralising works owe much to the failure of his father’s Latin-speaking Coffee House and his imprisonment in the Fleet Debtor’s prison. 

Never content, he wanted to excel at everything: engraving, portraiture and ‘History’ painting.  A sensitive portrait painter, his ‘Graham Children’ (1742), ‘The Shrimp Girl’ (1745) and ‘Servants’ (1759-60) all capture the characters and spirit of those depicted and hold up well against any other 18th century portrait painter. The narrative series of prints such as ‘A Harlot’s Progress’(1732), ‘A Rake’s Progress’(1733), ‘Marriage à la Mode’ (1743), ‘Gin Lane and Beer Street’ (1751) and ‘An Election Entertainment’ (1754-5) are powerful historic documents, capturing life in the eighteenth century.

Hogarth’s subjects were ordinary but flawed people seen in everyday settings. His powerful satirical paintings on topical themes are often bawdy, violent and cruel; both appealing and grim. While the posturing rich scheme and gamble, the poor starve and steal. With a passion for the ridiculous, Hogarth poked fun at fashion, elections, the clergy and foreigners. His images speak out across the centuries and his legacy still affects our lives in the daily caricatures and cartoon strips in newspapers and magazines.

Hogarth broke ‘art world taboos’ by selling direct to the public and succeeded in lobbying Parliament for greater legal control over the reproduction of his and other artists’ work. The resulting Engravers’ Copyright Act (known as ‘Hogarth’s Act’) became law in 1735.
The title of the talk is based on Hogarth’s painting ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ (1748). On a trip to France he was so imprudent as to sketch the drawbridge at Calais. He was seized and taken to the Governor. Forced to prove his vocation, Hogarth produced several caricatures of the French, in particular a scene of the shore with an immense piece of beef landing for the “Lion d'Argent”, the English inn at Calais, with several hungry friars following it. The Governor was much diverted with Hogarth’s drawings and released him.
Back at home, Hogarth immediately executed a painting of the subject in which he represented the French as cringing, emaciated and superstitious people, while an enormous sirloin of beef arrives, destined for the English inn as a symbol of British prosperity and superiority. He claimed to have painted himself into the picture in the left corner, sketching the gate with a ‘soldier's hand upon my shoulder’.

The BBC Your Paintings site is a valuable resource bringing together a visual catalogue of paintings in British collections, including Hogarth.

Follow this link to view the Tate Gallery's holdings of Hogarth.

David Bindman Hogarth and His Times: Serious Comedy, Oakland: University of California Press, 2002
Robert L S Cowley "Marriage à la Mode": Re-view of Hogarth's Narrative Art, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987
Judy Egerton Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode, London: National Gallery, 2011
Jenny Uglow William Hogarth: A Life and a World, London: Faber & Faber, 2002