Focusing on his portraits and self-portraits, this gallery examines Hogarth’s ambitions and artistic range as a painter, engraver, satirist and art theorist

In 1753 Hogarth published The Analysis of Beauty, an innovative and thoroughly modern treatise on art, beauty and life. Central to Hogarth’s argument was the concept of ‘variety’ and the way in which nature itself was full of shapes and colours that were geared towards ‘entertaining the eye with the pleasure of variety.’ The word ‘variety’ is highly applicable to the remarkably diverse body of engravings and paintings that Hogarth himself produced during a career spanning nearly fifty years. Indeed, Hogarth took great pains to promote himself as an artist of substance and innovation within a wide range of genres. This is clearly demonstrated in his self-portraits, exhibited here, which as a group represent a sophisticated and wide-ranging artistic manifesto. Here we see Hogarth as the gentleman artist, the art theorist, the celebrated satirist, the ‘Comic History Painter’ and the Sarjeant Painter to the King.Hogarth’s strength of character, individuality and dynamism are also clearly represented. This is especially true of the spectacular portrait bust by his friend the sculptor François Roubiliac. Early Georgian London was an exciting crossroads through which many European artists and craftsmen travelled and often, like the Frenchman Roubiliac, made their permanent home. Hogarth was a leading light in this lively and cosmopolitan artistic community. 

Works on display in this room

William Hogarth, 'The Painter and his Pug' 1745

William Hogarth
The Painter and his Pug 1745
Oil on canvas
support: 900 x 699 mm
Purchased 1824

View the main page for this artwork

William Hogarth
The Painter and his Pug 1745
Oil on canvas
900 x 699 mm
© Tate

This self-portrait is one of Hogarth’s best-known works. In its original conception (revealed through x-rays of the canvas) Hogarth pictured himself as a public figure in a shoulder-length wig and plain clothes, similar to that exhibited in the miniature portrait displayed nearby. This conventional, gentlemanly representation was superseded during the early 1740s by the present image, which emphasises the intellectual and artistic.

The foreground is dominated by the presence of the dog, which is generally accepted as a portrait of Trump, Hogarth’s pug. This is a humorous, highly personal element of the composition, as Hogarth is said to have often remarked on the physical resemblance between himself and his pet. And it may also represent a pun on the word ‘pugnacious’, which was one of Hogarth’s defining characteristics. In an artistic context, however, the pug may represent ‘Nature’, the observation of which was key to Hogarth’s approach to art and a central to his treatise The Analysis of Beauty, published in 1753. The ‘Line of Beauty’ displayed on his palette underlines that Hogarth was formulating his theoretical ideas at the time of this self-portrait.

Hogarth’s oval portrait rests on three books by William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, respectively. Hogarth states that his art draws inspiration from, and parallels with, English drama, satire and epic poetry, thus establishing a broader cultural context and national agenda within the self-portrait. 

William Hogarth
Self-Portrait with Palette c.1735
Oil on canvas
546 x 508 mm
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

This lively, unfinished painting is generally held to be Hogarth’s first self-portrait. If the approximate date is correct, he would have been in his mid- to late thirties. In general terms, the composition presents Hogarth first and foremost as a gentleman artist, demonstrated by the ‘public’ costume of a powdered wig, frock coat, white shirt and cravat, accompanied by a pleasing ease of manner and distinct lack of ostentation. Hogarth allows his ability as a painter to speak largely for itself, through the assured, energetic brushwork, the subtle use of colour and tone, and the natural and expressive qualities of his face.

William Hogarth
The Analysis of Beauty 1753
Book, 190 x 710 x 390 mm
Courtesy The British Library

Hogarth had been developing his ideas on beauty in art and nature from at least 1745, as demonstrated by the reference to ‘The Line of Beauty’ in his self-portrait, The Painter and his Pug. To an extent, The Analysis of Beauty was born out of discussions that Hogarth had had with his fellow artists at the St Martin’s Lane Academy and within the cosmopolitan environment of Old Slaughter’s coffee house located nearby. However, the finished product is fundamentally Hogarth’s, with the clear intention of establishing him as an original thinker, as well as offering a theoretical context for his art.

Hogarth’s stated aim was to fix ‘the fluctuating IDEAS on TASTE.’ At the heart of the treatise was the notion of variety and the serpentine line, which was held by Hogarth to be the essence of beauty. Hogarth also advocated the empirical observation of Nature as the cornerstone of artistic practice. Thus while underpinning his intellectual credentials by referring to theorists such as the Earl of Shaftesbury, Hogarth also encouraged his readers to move through London’s streets appraising perspective views in the context of ‘variety’ and ‘the line of beauty’. In so doing, he also suggested a similar method of appraising his own urban scenes. 

William Hogarth
The Analysis of Beauty, Plate II: The Country Dance 1753
Etching and engraving on paper
427 x 532 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

The main theme of The Country Dance is movement and the shape of the human body. The elegant couple on the left represent the ideal, their bodies forming a series of serpentine lines. The other dancers act as a foil to them through their clumsy, graceless movements and figures. The image thus underlines that Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty was not purely for an art-privileged audience but was an accessible and entertaining publication for polite society as a whole. In this sense it resembles eighteenth-century conduct books, such as John Essex’s The Art of Dance Explained (1728) or Francis Nivelon’s The Rudiments of Genteel Behaviour (1737). 

Paul Sandby
The Analyst Besh[itte]n: in his own Taste 1753
Etching and engraving on paper
263 x 180 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

The world of European aesthetic debate was rarefied and contested. Its pitfalls were amply demonstrated by Paul Sandby’s series of eight satirical responses to Hogarth’s treatise, in which the artist was ‘exposed’ as a pretentious charlatan, above all in the elevated fields of history painting and art theory. The example shown here presents The Analysis of Beauty as a mere plagiarism of the work of the Renaissance Italian painter and theorist Gian Paolo Lomazzo, mentioned in Hogarth’s text, who is standing to the left, brandishing a serpentine line. Notwithstanding Sandy’s evident hostility, The Analysis of Beauty was generally well-received by its readership.  

William Hogarth
Hogarth Painting the Comic Muse c.1757
Oil on canvas
451 x 425 mm
©National Portrait Gallery, London

The composition of this self-portrait follows a long established format of the artist at work. The figure that Hogarth has sketched on the canvas is Thalia, the classical Muse of Comedy. She holds a mask of Comedy in her left hand. The mask also suggests the theatre, which Hogarth considered central to his art.

The figure of Thalia personifies comedy in its most elevated form. What Hogarth sought to represent in this self-portrait, therefore, was the very essence of his identity as an artist, mirroring Henry Fielding’s declaration in the preface to Joseph Andrews (1742) that his friend, the ‘ingenious Hogarth’, was a ‘Comic History Painter’.

William Hogarth
Hogarth Painting the Comic Muse (March 1758)
Etching and engraving on paper
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

On 16 July 1757 Hogarth was awarded the title of Sergeant Painter to the King, which prompted this self-portrait. While a lucrative position and an acknowledgement of Hogarth’s pre-eminent position in London’s art world, it was by no means the most prestigious artist’s appointment at Court, as it came under the Board of Works. Hogarth thought enough of the honour to add the title of ‘Wm Hogarth / Serjeant Painter to His Majesty’ at the bottom of the print, which was used as the frontispiece to bound volumes of Hogarth’s works. A volume of The Analysis of Beauty can be seen propped up against the easel.

William Hogarth
Characters and Caricaturas April 1743
Etching and engraving on paper
261 x 205 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

In this celebrated print, Hogarth sought to dissociate his work from caricature, visually setting out its boundaries and limitations and insisting that the depiction of character made far greater intellectual and artistic demands than distorting facial features merely for the purposes of ridicule. The same argument was made in the preface to the novelist Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742), no doubt in collusion with Hogarth, who was a close friend. Hogarth, it was stated, was not a ‘Burlesque painter’ but a ‘Comic History Painter’, who seeks to express the ‘Affections of Men on Canvas.’ Thus Hogarth’s figures not only ‘seem to breathe’ but ‘appear to think.’