During the reign of King William III, the English caricature and satire were strongly influenced by Dutch artists such as Romeyn de Hooghe. Engraving and social satire in England own its rise to William Hogarth.

It was only at the end of his career that Hogarth pioneered in a rather clumsy way in the field of the political cartoon. However around 1720, the English school of caricaturists was fully formed and established, and William Hogarth was as an artist the greatest of all.  


Samuel Foote

The Comedy of Samuel Foote is important as background for Hogarth’s work. This form of comedy originated in England around 1720. All the characters in Foote’s plays were known and recognizable to the public. The imitations of their characters, virtues and vices together with clothes and language were perfect.


Hogarth considers the engraving as a rival of the comedy, he writes: “I see myself compelled to treat my subject as a dramatist. The gravure is my stage, and the actors play a kind of pantomime by certain actions and gestures.”

This pantomime is directed by Hogarth with inexorable logic. The characters are reduced to “good” and “evil”. They do not have a free choice; they do not fight. Once they have fallen down, they resign in their misfortune. Nuances and transitions do not seem to exist for Hogarth.


Hogarth is not a religious man but a Puritan Englishman whose morale has been shaken by the loose morals of his time. He displays not without vanity his talent at the service of a moralizing mission. He aims at picturing all forms of lawlessness and cruelty as ridiculous or repulsive.      


He works in a variety of formats. First, he makes narrative series of four to eight prints, for example, about “The life of a libertine” and “The life of a whore” (“A Rake’s Progress” and “A Harlot’s Progress”).

Secondly, he designs contrasting prints in pairs, such as “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane”, “France and England,” “Before and After”. The narrative is gone, but he seizes his chance to strike twice with inexorability. Finally, he limited the satire sometimes to a single idea: “Taste in High in Life”, “The Bench”.


The stereotyping is carried through in the names of the characters and titles of the prints, “Frank Goodchild” and “Thomas Idle”. “The distressed poet” lives in a shabby garret. What does he write? “Riches, a poem.”

Hogarth cherishes the hope that even the simplest people will see the scope of his prints and messages. He writes: “A great precision in execution, nor a sophistication is judged necessary here since these prints are otherwise too costly for the people for whom they are intended.”

Gin Lane

GIN LANE:   The gin – a product of Dutch descent – destroys the people in a time of low prices of grain, when the landlords drop the grain surpluses on the market for gin production.

The Reward for Cruelty


Hogarth was fully aware of the stiffness and a certain harshness of his method. “The passions can be expressed with a bold and daring line. But in letting speak my prints to hardened hearts, I preferred to maintain the harshness with a few lines to give the desired effect more powerful, than weaken them through an elaborate drawing and fine carving.”


In his studies and writings, he spends much attention to the caricature, and emphasizes the difference between “Character” and “Caricature”. He also studied the representation of emotions, as in his study of “Laughing audience”. But he remains an outspoken social satirist and makes in general no caricatures (in the sense of manipulation of facial features of known persons).

Analysis of Beauty: False perspective


Mastering many pictorial techniques he made also some artistic tools and methods subject to his satire by showing the illusory character of certain aspects of the arts. For instance the cheating of the eye by means of perspective views. He was also a critic of the Rembrandtesque “Clair-Obscure”.  


Hogarth thus became the forerunner of the English caricature culminating in the work of Rowlandson and Gillray. Also on the continent of Europe,  his success was enormous. The French philosopher and art theorist Denis Diderot knew him well. Around 1780 he wrote that “one snatches prints by Hogarth out of each other’s hands and there is no household father who feels no obligation to purchase them.”

Paul before Felix in the ridiculous manner of Rembrandt


Hogarth actually created a new genre by making grand art of the popular satire. In his “Anecdotes” he tells in his own way what the motives were for his work. This new genre lay according to him in an area that had been neglected by other painters or writers and was situated between the Sublime and Grotesque.

“I wanted to create pieces that resemble the theatre. That is to say, it concerns scenes for which the human species itself provides the actors, which are up to now rarely treated. In these scenes, the personages are intended to moralize but at the same time to entertain. The public utility could also be large, although its implementation is difficult (but that is a secondary consideration). Their author is worthy of the highest praise. This painted comedy is all the more convincing for a man with quick understanding than a thousand written comedies. “


Hogarth had many enemies like Foote, by incorporating known personalities in his satires. He was also extremely vain and envious of his talent and jealous to that of his colleagues. All these animosities came to an outburst when Hogarth published his Analysis of Beauty. He was certainly not the person himself who excelled in creating beauty but nevertheless undertook to examine its principles.

the line of beauty

In this book, he mentioned a mysterious line the “Beauty line”, a wavy or serpentine line, which determines according to him all the beauty.

Once it became known what he meant by that line he was exposed to countless attacks and eternal ridicule and merriness especially from the trunk of the offended painters. In 1754 appeared countless caricatures of Hogarth and his line that showed the sharpness of

the hatred he had summoned. Paul Sandby made one of the best cartoons in which Hogarth is pictured playing with a jumping jack, the cord touches lightly the beauty line depicted on the palette. Near Hogarth is his favourite dog Trump who always accompanied him in these prints.

Measuring beauty

On another picture we see a crowd of humpbacks and disfigured, coming forward with zeal, to be measured with the rhythmic beauty line that seems to suit them well. It was not enough to ridicule Hogarth on this line, they began to accuse him that the invention of the Beauty line was not done entirely by himself.  He might have stolen the idea from the Italian painter and writer LOMAZZO, who would have already figured that out in a treatise on the fine arts from the 16th century.


George II died in 1760 and let the throne to his grandson. Until now Hogarth did not allow himself to let politics come into his prints and paintings. About his motives to do this now he is very clear:

“This period was a period of foreign wars and disputes in the interior which occupied all minds; prints went out of fashion, and this stagnation of business necessitated me to do something that possessed ACTUALITY to compensate for the lost time and to cover the deficit of my income. “

May this be clear, it is less clear why he just decided to attack the grand ex-minister William Pitt (the Elder) who was recently forced by George III to resign his functions.

The Georgians were also Electors of Hanover and William Pitt (the Elder) was fired because he refused to deploy British troops on the continent in defence of Hanover. Instead, he suggested that England – if at all needed – would provide financial support to continental allies. A politic that appealed of course to the most Britons. Hogarth did show insufficient political instinct to realize this.

His friend John Wilkes had warned Hogarth previously that he could expect reprisals from publishing satires against Pitt.

In September 1762 the print in question titled “The Times” came out: according to Hogarth Europe stood in flames, and the fire had spread to England: William Pitt had instigated that fire, and Lord Bute (Hogarth ‘s patron) was busy to extinguish it.

Wilkes attacked Hogarth with unusual sharpness with lots of speculations about both his private life and his talents as an artist. Hogarth, who was incensed to the limit, responded immediately with a famous caricature of Wilkes. Then the poet Churchill a friend of Wilkes and formerly also of Hogarth published a poisonous satire in verse against the painter.

Hogarth also answered back immediately:

“I still had an old picture which was unfinished and started to think how I could take part of this to meddlesome portrait with bits and pieces of master Churchill as a bear.”

John Wilkes

Hogarth chuckled to himself in his “Anecdotes” already on the pecuniary benefits he would have out of the sale of these two prints.

Hogarth’s dog barks at a safe distance to the bear, which devises a new attack, with his paw on a blank sheet. The dog keeps himself behind the palette of his master on which the Beauty line appears.

Now swelled the satirical violence against Hogarth to unprecedented heights. There appeared parodies of his work, ridiculizing his person and his manners, with concerns about his honesty. Everything became the subject of prints with titles like HOGGAS (= Cochon-Ane), Hoggart (= art de Cochon),  O’Garth etcetera.

Mr Churchill as a bear, holding porter in one hand and a knotty stick in the other. Every knot bears a label with the words Lie 1, Lie 2, Lie 3 etcetera

And it is commonly believed that the “disloyalty” of his friends led to Hogarth’s early death in 1764, wit in his ears the touches of sarcasm of his political enemies and his fellow artists.