Hogarth’s modern moral subjects demonstrated his personal crusade to establish modern urban life, including low life, as an appropriate subject for high art
Hogarth’s complex approach was at once topical and journalistic and also one that made frequent reference to elevated artistic subject matter. One indication of this is Hogarth’s use of pictures within his pictures, in particular history paintings. These not only drive the narrative forward but establish a visual correlation between the sophisticated programme of symbols, allusions and gestures employed in Hogarth’s modern moral subjects and that found in history painting itself, then appreciated as the most intellectually and artistically rigorous of all pictorial genres.
The richness and inventiveness of Hogarth’s narratives was accompanied by a remarkable form of artistic entrepreneurialism. He took on the jobs of advertising, engraving and selling print versions of his paintings, thus establishing himself as an independent artist rather than a print-publisher’s hack. Famously, when the success of A Harlot’s Progress resulted in numerous pirated versions by unscrupulous printsellers, Hogarth lobbied in parliament for greater legal control over the reproduction of his and others artists work. The result was the Engravers’ Copyright Act (known as ‘Hogarth’s Act’), which became law on 25 June 1735.