A guest post by London Historians Member, Val Bott.
William Hogarth died 250 years ago on 26 October 1764. He spent Thursday, 24 October working on his engraving plate of The Bench at Chiswick but, too unwell to work on the 25th, he was taken to his town house in Leicester Fields while his wife remained at Chiswick. On going to bed, he was taken suddenly very ill and died a couple of hours later in the arms of his wife’s cousin, Mary Lewis, who had helped run the print business for years. He was buried at St Nicholas Church by the Thames at Chiswick, where later a fine memorial was erected with an epitaph by David Garrick.
That week a piece in the the London Evening Post commented that in Hogarth were happily united ‘the utmost force of human genius, an incomparable understanding, an inflexible integrity and a most benevolent heart. No man was better acquainted with the human passions, nor endeavoured to make them more subservient to the reformation of the world than this inimitable artist. His works will continue to be held in the highest estimation, so long as sense, genius and virtue shall remain among us’.
Hogarth was a Londoner through and through, depicting daily life in clear reality and with affection, while mocking those of whom he disapproved. A brilliant engraver and a fine self-taught painter, he produced memorable images which we love today. With an astute business sense he sold his prints by subscription and protected them from piracy through his successful campaign for the first artists’ Copyright Act. He was a generous man and his love for animals and children is evident in his work. A philanthropist, he was a governor of the Foundling Hospital, he oversaw the wet-nurses who cared for foundling babies in Chiswick and, with his wife Jane, fostered foundling children. When financially secure he acquired his much-loved second home a Chiswick which is now a museum about the Hogarths, their Chiswick friends and neighbours, and other past residents of the house. The walls are hung with his most important prints, depicting London as the backdrop to his famous series of modern moral subjects, but also at the theatre, in the crowd at Southwark Fair, in the streets in Four Times of Day.
The William Hogarth Trust has worked with Hogarth’s House this year to produce a new exhibition, The Small Self, which has just opened. Supported by a grant from the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, it was devised by trustees Chrissy Blake and Jason Bowyer, who sent out sixty foot-square artists’ boards with an invitation to use these to submit a self portrait in homage to Hogarth. Fifty-three self-portraits have arrived, from the Trust’s patron, Sir Peter Blake, Royal Academicians William Bowyer, Anthony Green, Ken Howard and Humphrey Ocean, cartoonists Steve Bell and Martin Rowson, designers Cath Kidston and Toni Marshall, writers such as Jaqueline Wilson and Mike McCartney, performers including Harry Hill, Holly Johnson, Jim Moir and Joanna Lumley and members of the New English Art Club. This exhibition is testimony to a strong continuing enthusiasm for Hogarth; a beautiful little catalogue illustrating them all is on sale at £6.95.
On the evening of 25 October the Trust and the Friends of St Nicholas will be mounting a special commemoration at Chiswick’s St Nicholas Church. Ars Eloquentiae will perform music Hogarth would have known (with some audience participation!) and Rosalind Knight, Lars Tharp and others will be reading 18th century texts to celebrate Hogarth’s life and work. Admission is £10, refreshments will be available and there will be a souvenir programme on sale. The event is supported by the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, Hounslow Council and Fleet Tutors.
On 22 October The Cartoon Museum opens Hogarth’s London, a must for London Historians. It draws together a range of prints (including a number on loan from Hogarth’s House) to celebrate his love of the capital city and to reveal the vitality and the suffering of life here 250 years ago.
The Small Self continues until 11 January 2015, 12 noon to 17.00 Tuesday to Sunday, admission free.
Hogarth’s London continues until 18 January 2015, 10.30 to 17.30 Monday to Saturday, Sunday 12 noon to 17.30, at 35 Little Russell St, London WC1A 2HH. There is an admission charge – full details at cartoonmuseum.org.