William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English painter, engraver, editorial cartoonist, social critic, and sequential artist. He is commonly referred as the grandfather of modern comics due to his three famous series of paintings: The Harlot’s Progress (1731-2), The Rake’s Progress (1732-3), and Marriage à-la-mode (1743–1745). These paintings were produced and displayed in a specific order and told a story – the beginnings of what we call comics today.
Hogarth grew up in London, forming his moral opinions from observing street life and London fairs, as well as his family’s poor background. He trained and worked as an engraver before he painted; in fact, he had to sue a client who refused to pay him on the grounds he was “no painter” – Hogarth won the case.
When he did begin painting, he started small: 12 by 15-inch informal paintings of people called “conversation pieces”. He also made many portraits, parodies of Renaissance works, theatre-themed art, and illustrated books.
What Hogarth is most well-known for is his vast collection of moralizing cartoons and comic-like paintings and engravings. Using satire, he commented on marriages of convenience, the Protestant work ethic, alcoholism, war, poverty, and cruelty to animals.
Unlike Renaissance painters and other artists of his day, Hogarth decided to use the female form to represent the idea of Beauty. He said of the ladies: “Who but a bigot, even to the antiques, will say that he has not seen faces and necks, hands and arms in living women, that even the Grecian Venus doth but coarsely imitate.” This is quite a statement, flying in the face of at least a thousand years of Western artistic tradition.
Hogarth married Jane Thornhill, the daughter of Sir James Thornhill, who was the first artist in England to be knighted. The couple, who had no biological children, fostered orphans; Hogarth was a co-founder of Foundling Hospital in London, which still exists 272 years later. He died at the age of 67 and is still well-known in art circles, especially for his satirical cartoons.