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WILLIAM HOGARTH (1697-1764); with some notes on the states and editions of his prints


Sometime before 1720 Hogarth was apprenticed to Ellis Gamble, a silver-plate engraver in Cranbourne Alley.  In April of 1720 he set himself up as an engraver of designs on copper.  Though largely self-taught, he did receive some tuition at the school of Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734), the court painter best known for his large-scale works at Greenwich Hospital and elsewhere, later his father-in-law.  His early productions were mainly shop-bills and the like, but in 1724 he engraved the satirical Masquerades and Operas which he published himself, and in 1726 his first major work, the twelve large independent engravings illustrating Samuel Butler’s Hudibras.  He had also engraved a number of ordinary book illustrations, including a series of plates for de la Motraye’s Travels (volumes I and II 1723/4), and sixteen small plates for the 1726 edition of Hudibras (as well as a frontispiece portrait of Butler).[i]

Hogarth began painting on canvas in 1727.  He experimented with and popularised the “conversation piece”, the successor of the French or Dutch group portrait, at this early period often no more than twelve or fifteen inches high.  Typically these would picture the members of a single family, often with their relations, friends, and animals, or groups of male companions, in varying settings.  Later on he painted larger versions usually to order.  These pictures embody the ideals of polite society and civilised conversation, yet are suffused with humanity and vitality.  He also painted several larger pieces usually theatrical in composition.

In 1729 he married Sir James Thornhill’s daughter Jane, without her father’s approval, (though Thornhill was soon reconciled with his son-in-law).  By 1731 he had completed the series of six paintings of A Harlot’s Progress, which were executed with the specific intention of subsequently producing engravings from them.  These engravings were completed by April of 1732.  Though previously his normal practice had been  to sell the copper plates to the printsellers, from this date on with a few exceptions he kept possession of them.  And by the time the next series of engravings, after A Rake’s Progress, was published in 1735, Hogarth had been instrumental in obtaining the support of Parliament in the form of an Act (8 Geo. II. Cap. 13, 1734) designed to curtail the piratical tendencies of the printsellers, so that the prints bear the words “according to Act of Parliament”, words which, in that form or with variants, became the familiar appendage to most of the published prints of the eighteenth century.

 Over the next six years Hogarth produced several of his best-known plates, usually based on paintings, including The Four Times of Day, A Midnight Modern Conversation, Strolling Actresses, The Distrest Poet, and The Enraged Musician.

The engravings of Marriage à la Mode appeared in 1745, in which year Hogarth also tried to dispose of a number of his original oils.  The relatively low monetary value attached to his paintings, with the exception of some of his portraits, demonstrates how little appreciated they were in his lifetime, when the public’s craze was all for the “old masters”.  Even the six paintings for Marriage à la Mode, the engravings of which were published in 1745, fetched only 120 guineas in 1751.

The most important plates of the final portion of Hogarth’s life include Industry and Idleness (a series of twelve plates, or rather two parallel series of six, depicting the lives of two apprentices) published in 1747, Beer Street and Gin Lane and the Four Stages of Cruelty in 1751, Four Prints of an Election in 1755-58, and Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism in 1762.  His final years were dogged with criticism and conflict, notably the attacks on him by Charles Churchill the poet and by John Wilkes, to which he responded with his satirical prints of both.

Hogarth’s plates often combine etching and engraving.  The issues can broadly be divided into four:

1.      Plates printed during Hogarth’s lifetime, sold as single prints, series, or collected in sewn folios.

2.      Plates reprinted by his widow Jane in 1783, which she claimed not to have been retouched.

3.      On Jane’s death the plates passed to Mary Lewis and thence to the publisher John Boydell, who published impressions of all the plates in his possession (103) in atlas folio in 1790.  There was a second edition a couple of years later, and a third in 1795, of 107 and 110 plates respectively, both accompanied by a note to the effect that the plates had not been retouched.[ii]

4.      In 1818 the plates were sold at Boydell’s sale, and came into the possession of the publishers Baldwin, Cradock and Joy.  Between 1820 and 1822 they were published in 24 monthly numbers of five sheets each, comprising 156 plates on 119 sheets.  Upon completion the whole work was issued under the title The Works of William Hogarth, from the Original Plates, Restored by James Heath.  Heath was a well established and technically highly skilled engraver, an associate fellow of the Royal Academy, who was in his sixties and on the verge of retirement when he undertook the re-engraving of the Hogarth plates.  His restoration of these plates was precise, subtle and restrained.  Hogarth Restored by James Heath marks the fourth and last publication stage of Hogarth’s plates in anything like their original form.  The work was republished at least four times between about 1828 and 1840, though in 1835 the plates themselves had been bought by the publisher Henry Bohn for £250.

Once in Bohn’s possession the plates were so repaired and reworked as to lose any artistic connection with the originals.  The English Catalogue lists an edition as early as 1837 and Bohn also published a quarto edition of the works about 1861.  After 1864 the plates passed to Chatto and Windus, and thence to Bernard Quaritch.  Some were melted down for munitions in the First World War, but most of the important ones were sold privately into various collections.

Some of the many editions unconnected with the original plates should be mentioned. In 1768 John Trusler’s Hogarth Moralized appeared in octavo, with Trusler’s own reading of the plates. John Ireland’s Hogarth Illustrated was first published in two volumes octavo in 1790, with subsequent editions in 1793 and 1808, the latter incorporating A Supplement to Hogarth Illustrated which first appeared in 1798.  Samuel Ireland’s Graphic Illustrations of Hogarth (two volumes, 1794 and 1799) included many engravings executed by Samuel and his daughters Jane and Anna Maria based on his collection of Hogarth drawings and prints, some of which have subsequently been found not to have been by Hogarth.  Also in 1794 was published the quarto Sammlung Hogarthischer Kupfer-Stiche (English edition, Prints of William Hogarth) containing a maximum of 88 of Hogarth’s designs engraved by Ernst Ludwig Riepenhausen (1765–1840), which were used to illustrate Lichtenberg’s Commentaries on Hogarth’s prints.  Riepenhausen’s copies are vigorous and vital, and considered by at least one modern authority to be the equal of Hogarth’s own work.  In 1795 was published in folio by G.G. and J. Robinson, first in parts and subsequently as a bound volume, Hogarth Restored … A complete edition of the works of William Hogarth, faithfully copied from his finished proofs, by T. Cook.  (Thomas Cook, engraver, 1744-1818)  This was republished in 1801 with slight variations in the wording of the title and with “S. Gosnell” added to the publishers, and in 1812 by John Stockdale, John Walker and G. Robinson.  Quarto editions also engraved by Cook from this last publisher also appeared in 1808 and 1813. 

The standard bibliography of Hogarth’s works is Ronald Paulson’s Hogarth’s Graphic Works, third revised edition, The Print Room,1989.

[i]  These small plates were probably engraved about 1720 or 1721, making them some of his earliest work on copper.  The designs were not entirely his own invention, but were based on a series of plates illustrating a 1710 edition of the work published by Chiswel, Tonson and others.

[ii]  The copper was prone to wear, not so much from the process of printing itself, but from the wiping of the plates after inking to remove ink from the polished surface. Thus the engraved lines became shallower and weaker over time, and it was common practice for an engraver to deepen and strengthen them.

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