Hogarth's Anecdotes

Sign for a Paviour, by Hogarth, c 1725; Paul Mellon Collection.
From: The Vernacular Art of the Artisan in England, by James Ayres

Hogarth's personal memoirs of his life are so rich in insights into the realities and problems of the English artist of his age, that several excerpts bear repeating. The following selections come from the edition of 1833, edited by John Nichols.

[The annexed letter Mr John Ireland was informed was written by Hogarth ..... It is printed in the London Magazine for 1737, and thus prefaced:]

"The following piece, published in the St James's Evening Post of June 7th, is by the first painter in England, ---- perhaps in the world in his way.

"Every good-natured man and well-wisher to the Arts in England, must feel a kind of resentment at a very indecent paragraph, in the Daily Post of Thursday last, ..... in which very unjust, as well as cruel reflections, are cast on the noblest performance (in its way) that England has to boast of; I mean the work of the late Sir James Thornhill in Greenwich Hall. It has ever been the business of narrow, little geniuses, ..... to endeavour, by detracting from the merits of great men, to build themselves a kind of reputation. These peddling demi-critics, on the painful discovery of some little inaccuracy (which proceeds mainly from the freedom of the pencil), .... with great satisfaction condemn the whole as a bad and incorrect piece. [p.39]

"There is another set of gentry, more noxious to the art than these, and those are your picture-jobbers from abroad, who are always ready to raise a great cry in the prints, whenever they think their craft is in danger; and indeed it is in their interest to depreciate every English work as hurtful to their trade of continually importing ship-loads of dead Christs, Holy Families, Madonnas, and other dismal, dark subjects, neither entertaining nor ornamental, on which they scrawl the terrible cramp names of some Italian masters, and fix on us poor Englishmen the character of universal dupes. [p.40]


"The tribe of booksellers remained as my father had left them, when he died..... occasioned partly by the treatment he met with from this set of people .... which put me upon publishing on my own account. But here again I had to encounter a monopoly of printsellers, equally mean, and destructive to the ingenious .... I found copies of [the first plate I published] in the print-shops, vending at half-price, while the original prints were returned to me again; and I was thus obliged to sell the plate for whatever these pirates pleased to give me, as there was no place of sale but at their shops. [p.6]

"Vanloo, a French portrait painter, being told that the English were to be cajoled by any one who had a sufficient portion of assurance, came to this country, set his trumpeters to work, and by the assistance of puffing, monopolized all the people of fashion in the kingdom. Down went at once *, ---*, ---*, ---*, ---*, ---&c. &c. &c. painters who, before his arrival, were highly fashionable and eminent; but by this foreign interloper were driven into the greatest distress and poverty. [p.18]

The character of Hogarth; III. By John Ireland Esq.

Were the character of Hogarth considered by a connoisseur, he would probably assert, that this man could not be a painter, for he had never travelled to Rome; --- could not be a judge of art, --- for he spoke irreverently of the ancients; --- gave his figures neither dignity nor grace; --- was erroneous in his distribution of light and shade, and inattentive to the painter's balance; --- that his grouping was inartificial, and his engraving coarse." [p.77]

The Discovery of Painting 1680-1768, by Iain Pears, 1988.
The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: 1725-1742, by Christine Gerrard, 1994.
The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, by David Armitage, 2000.
The Vernacular Art of the Artisan in England, by James Ayres,
article in The Magazine Antiques, Feb 1997.

Distressed Author

A man will turn over half a library to make one book. Samuel Johnson, 6th April 1775

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