This gallery concentrates on Hogarth’s early career in the 1720s, as a graphic satirist and budding painter, culminating in his first popular success Scene from The Beggar’s Opera

Hogarth began his career as an engraver, in a city where the display of graphic art was one of the backdrops of everyday life. In making his way within London’s artistic life, Hogarth soon began to specialise in graphic satire. The detailed and theatrical satirical prints Hogarth produced in the 1720s engaged with the great social and political issues of his time, ranging from the financial collapse of 1720, called the South Sea Bubble, to the fashionable craze for masquerades. They also saw him developing a highly experimental and self-consciously allusive form of printmaking, in which he responded to and borrowed from a remarkable variety of pictorial and textual materials.

As well as pursuing his ambitions as an engraver, Hogarth quickly turned to the world of painting. During the 1720s Hogarth regularly attended the newly-formed St Martin’s Lane Academy of artists and rubbed shoulders with established painters from home and abroad. This training soon paid off, and by the end of the decade Hogarth was becoming well established as a painter. He was celebrated in particular for canvases such as Falstaff Examining his Recruits and A Scene from the Beggar’s Opera, in which, for the first time, the dramatic works of William Shakespeare and John Gay were translated into painted form.

Works on display in this room:

William Hogarth
The South Sea Scheme c.1721
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 327 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

The summer of 1720 had seen thousands of investors and brokers across Europe becoming caught up in the feverish bout of financial speculation known as the South Sea Bubble. The subsequent collapse of the European financial markets in the last months of 1720 generated a spate of Dutch-produced satirical engravings that were quickly adapted for use in the English marketplace. Bernard Picart’s and Bernard Baron’s A Monument Dedicated to Posterity, displayed here, was the most elaborate of these prints, and was widely advertised in the London newspapers during the spring of 1721.

Hogarth’s The South Sea Scheme shows him responding brilliantly to the Dutch satirists’ examples, and offering his own, even more brutal image of the crisis. In his print, the grossly mutilated and blindfolded figure of Fortune is shown hanging by her hair from the balcony of London’s Guildhall. Her body is being hacked by a scythe-wielding devil, who throws hunks of her flesh to the crazed speculators below. The frantic whirl of speculation is allegorised by the merry-go-round that spins in the mid-distance, while another form of gambling is highlighted on a nearby balcony, where a procession of spinsters queue to take part in a raffle for lottery-winning husbands.

Bernard Baron after Bernard Picart
A Monument Dedicated to Posterity 1721
Etching and engraving on paper
210 x 343 mm
The British Museum, London

Louis Francois Roubiliac
William Hogarth c.1741
Terracotta bust
711 mm high
National Portrait Gallery, London

William Hogarth
Shop Card April 1720
Engraving on card
76 x 102 mm
The British Museum, London

William Hogarth
Mary and Ann Hogarth’s Shop Card
Etching on paper
The British Museum, London

Trade cards were a ubiquitous feature of commercial life in eighteenth-century London. Hogarth produced a number of them in his early career. The examples shown here were made for the silver-plate engraver Ellis Gamble and for Hogarth’s sisters Mary and Ann, who ran a milliner’s shop in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.. Hogarth’s own card, also displayed here, served to announce his entrance into the London print market in the spring of 1720 and to advertise his skills as a ‘penman’, a term used by contemporaries to denote someone who was equally adept at engraving lettering and imagery.

William Hogarth
Ellis Gamble’s Shop Card (c.1723? 1728?)
Engraving on paper
89 x 121 mm
The British Museum, London

Before embarking on a career as an independent engraver in 1720, Hogarth had been apprenticed to Ellis Gamble, from whom he learned many of the basic skills of his craft. Although the younger artist broke off his apprenticeship before it was due to end and turned to the more promising activity of copperplate engraving, his production of a trade card for Gamble in 1723 suggests that relations between the two men remained cordial. In this handsome card, which announces his old master’s advance to the status of a ‘goldsmith’, Hogarth depicts the ‘Golden Angel’ that identified Gamble’s premises and that was presumably to be found standing above the shop’s exterior.

William Hogarth
The Bad Taste of the Town (‘Masquerades and Operas’) 1724
Etching and engraving on paper with separate engraved caption plate
30 x 172 mm 130 x 175 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

In The Bad Taste of the Town, Hogarth satirises the contemporary fashion for masquerades, operas, magic, pantomime and Italianate art. On the left of the print, the exterior of the London opera house is dominated by a huge sign – its imagery derived from a recently published satire (displayed here) by another engraver – in which three foreign opera singers, Berenstadt, Cuzzoni and Senesino, are shown receiving bags of money from a trio of noblemen. Hogarth also shows the opera house hosting the conjuring acts of Isaac Fawkes and the masquerades that had been introduced into the English capital by the Swiss impresario John James Heidegger. Opposite stands Lincoln’s Inn Theatre, which had recently enjoyed enormous success through the performance of commedia dell’arte pantomimes. The ‘Accademy of Arts’ depicted in the background of the print (which in fact depicts the doorway to Burlington House in London) signals another bastardised form of contemporary taste – the cult of Italian and classical art and architecture being fostered by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, and his protégé, the artist and designer William Kent, whose stone figure towers above the ludicrously downgraded figures of Michelangelo and Raphael.

Anonymous
Berenstadt, Cuzzoni and Senesino 1723
Engraving on paper
187 x 260 mm
The British Museum, London

William Hogarth
The Lottery (second state) 1724
Etching and engraving on paper
262 x 327 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

The Lottery not only maintains the theatrical themes of The Bad Taste of the Town but also extends the satirical attack on delusive investment found in The South Sea Scheme. The image is set in the interior of the Guildhall in the City of London, which is depicted as a stage-like arena framed by the heavy curtains of a playhouse, and populated by a series of allegorical figures who satirically commentate upon the State Lottery system. National lotteries had been exploited by parliament as a means of generating extra public income since the end of the previous century. And while the figures distributed on the rostrum depicted in the centre of the print – Public Credit, Apollo, Britannia and Justice – seem to allegorise the benefits brought to the nation by these lotteries, things are not quite as sanguine elsewhere in the image, where virtuous figures are repeatedly paired with those who embody the dangers, seductions and misfortunes of this state-sanctioned form of gambling.

William Hogarth
Study for The Lottery 1724
Pen and black ink over pencil, gery wash, corrections with brown ink and red chalk
229 x 324 mm
Her Majesty The Queen

William Hogarth
The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Life by ye Gormagons (second state) 1724
Etching and engraving on paper
251 x 352 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

This dense, exotic and obscene print saw Hogarth extending his satiric investigation of urban culture into the world of freemasonry. The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormogons pictures a grotesque parody of the annual Masonic procession through the capital, in which a group of Eastern mystics, accompanied by a dancing monkey dressed in Masonic gloves and apron, lead a donkey carrying an old woman freakishly twisted at the waist, whose pock-marked buttocks are exposed to view and kissed by a trapped Masonic novitiate. Behind her, the Masons who file out of the pictured tavern are obscured by the ridiculous figure of Don Quixote, who lurches towards the old woman; his companion, Sancho Panza, reels back in shock nearby, accompanied by the figure of a laughing butcher.

The Mystery of Masonry draws upon no less than four works from a contemporary series of prints representing the adventures of Don Quixote, including Don Quixote takes the puppets to be Turks, which features the familiar figures of Sancho Panza and the laughing butcher, together with the old woman, all of whom Hogarth transplants to his print.

Gerard Vandergucht after Charles Antoine Coypel
Don Quixote takes the puppets to be Turks and attacks them to rescue two flying Lovers c.1723–5
Engraving on paper
267 x 283 mm
The British Museum, London

William Hogarth
Royalty, Episcopy, and Law c.1724–5
Etching and engraving on paper
188 x 246 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

In this print, Hogarth drew upon an old satiric tradition of substituting emblematic attributes for the head and body, in order to satirise the nation’s institutions, office-holders and fashionable elite. The surreal result sees a coin standing in for a king’s face, a pump acquiring eerily human characteristics as it spurts cash into a bishop’s money-chest, and a teapot taking the place of a woman’s head. The three figures and their retainers are shown floating in the clouds, as if seen through the lens of a telescope. Here Hogarth alludes to a celebrated lunar eclipse that had taken place earlier in 1724.

William Hogarth
Cunicularii, or The Wise Men of Godliman in Consultation December 1726
Etching and engraving on paper
188 x 256 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

This image was one of a slew of pictorial and textual satires dealing with the case of Mary Tofts, who in the autumn of 1726 declared that she had given birth to rabbits. Remarkably, her claims were initially supported by a number of eminent medical authorities, including the Swiss anatomist to the royal household, Nathaniel St. Andre (‘A’ in the print) and the German Cyriacus Ahlers (‘C’), the royal surgeon. That Tofts was performing an elaborate hoax was only confirmed in December, and writers and artists were quick to lampoon not only Tofts herself, but also men such as Andre and Ahlers, whose ignorance and gullibility were seen to be indicative of the corruption of British medicine by foreign-born adventurers.

William Hogarth
The Punishment Inflicted on Lemuel Gulliver… December 1726
Etching and engraving on paper
212 x 320 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

In this dystopian satire on the state of contemporary Britain, Hogarth responds to the recent publication of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s eponymous protagonist, visible only as an exposed posterior, serves as a metaphor for a benign but gullible Britain, while the swarming Lilliputians inserting an enema between his buttocks stand in for the contemporary Whig ministry and church, who are attacked for having dispensed a similarly invasive and violent form of political and religious medicine to the nation. Their political leader, a surrogate for the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, supervises proceedings whilst being held aloft in a thimble.

William Hogarth
Masquerade Ticket 1727
Etching and engraving on paper
205 x 265mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

This mock masquerade ticket pictures a crowd of masqueraders circulating within a fantastical interior, littered with emblems of the erotic and excessive pleasures on offer. The wonderfully named ‘lecherometers’ stand ready to measure the sexual temperature of those who walk towards them. On one side of the room, an altar to Priapus is decorated by numerous antlers, the traditional emblem of cuckoldry, while on the right a raging fire warms the suggestively interlocked figures of Venus and her attendant Cupid, the latter of whom is about to fire his arrow into the crowd.

William Hogarth
Frontispiece to Hudibras (first state) 1725/1726
Etching and engraving on paper
265 x 355 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (1662), a long, enduringly popular satirical poem exposing the personal, political and religious delusions generated by the English Civil Wars, was regularly lauded as an English counterpart to Cervantes’s Don Quixote. In the 1720s, Hogarth engraved two sets of works depicting episodes from the poet’s famous work. The first, modestly sized set, probably executed in the early 1720s but not published until April 1726, was intended as a series of book illustrations (see display case). The second, larger in scale and more sophisticated in style, was produced as a collection of thirteen free-standing engravings, and published in the spring of 1726 by the major print seller Philip Overton.

Three prints from Hogarth’s large-scale series are displayed here. The first is an elaborate, allegorical frontispiece. The second, entitled Hudibras’s First Adventure typifies Hogarth’s designs for the series. The image shows the deluded protagonist of Butler’s poem, Hudibras, confronting a motley collection of stave-wielding countrymen, who are accompanied by a disabled fiddler and a miserable bear. In the third print, Burning the Rumps at Temple Bar, Hogarth ties the imagery of the mob to a particular historic event – the riotous burning of rump in the streets that followed the reassembly of the Rump parliament in 1660 – and to a specific urban location, Temple Bar in London.

William Hogarth
Hudibras’s First Adventure (second state) 1726
Etching and engraving on paper
272 x 312 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Samuel Butler
Hudibras 1710
Book
180 x 280 x 180 mm
The British Library, London

William Hogarth
Burning ye Rumps at Temple-Barr c.1721–6
Etching and engraving on paper
108 x 127 mm
The British Museum, London

William Hogarth
Study for Burning ye Rumps at Temple-Barr 1725–6
Pen with brown ink, brown washes, over pencil
247 x 212 mm
Her Majesty The Queen

William Hogarth
Plate for Burning ye Rumps at Temple-Barr 1726
Copper plate
280 x 520 x 2 mm, 2 kg
Hogarth’s House, managed by CIP working in partnership with Hounslow Council, London

William Hogarth
Burning ye Rumps at Temple-Barr (second state) 1725–6
Etching and engraving on paper
272 x 313 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth
The Denunciation 1729
Oil on canvas
495 x 660 mm
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

In The Denunciation, a pregnant unmarried woman stands before a corrupt magistrate and falsely declares that the father of her unborn child is the dour, miserly dissenter who stands nearby with his arms and eyes raised theatrically upwards. The accuser – who may well be a prostitute – is being coached in her performance by the whispering figure of the real father, who trains her up just as the girl sitting next to the magistrate trains up her puppy. We are invited to imagine that the venal Justice will declare on the pregnant woman’s behalf, having already come to some kind of financial arrangement with her.

William Hogarth
The Christening (Orator Henley Christening a Child) c.1729
Oil on canvas
495 x 628 mm
Lent from a private collection

Painted at the same time and displaying strikingly similar themes and dimensions, The Christening may well have been executed as a companion-piece to The Denunciation. Hogarth satirises the clergyman standing at the centre of the picture, who is distracted from his duties by the sight of the bosom of the young woman standing next to him. Around this central pairing, Hogarth introduces a gallery of types familiar from The Denunciation, including the mother sitting in the background, the fop who exaggeratedly admires himself in a mirror, the girl who spills the christening bowl, and the small dog who worries away at the hat on the floor.

William Hogarth
Falstaff Examining his Recruits 1730
Oil on canvas
495 x 585 mm
Courtesy The Guinness Family

This is the earliest surviving painting of a subject from Shakespeare. It was executed at the time a version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 was being successfully performed on the London stage. Hogarth depicts a moment from the play when the great comic character Sir John Falstaff ‘impresses’ recruits for his army. Falstaff uses one hand to surreptitiously accept a bribe enabling two of the newly impressed soldiers – shown on the right – to escape military duty, whilst simultaneously using his other hand to point to their gullible replacements, and to distract the attention of his buffoon-like cronies gathered around the table.

William Hogarth, 'A Scene from 'The Beggar's Opera' VI' 1731

William Hogarth
A Scene from 'The Beggar's Opera' VI 1731
Oil on canvas
support: 572 x 762 mm frame: 820 x 900 x 90 mm
Purchased 1909

View the main page for this artwork

Between 1728 and 1731 Hogarth painted numerous versions of a climactic scene from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the great theatrical sensation of the period. Hogarth concentrated on a scene set in Newgate prison in which the play’s leading character, a condemned highwayman called Captain Macheath, is shown at the centre of a tug-of-love. The characters of Lucy Lockit and Polly Peachum, both of whom believe themselves married to Macheath, plead with their fathers – respectively a corrupt prison-warden and a crooked lawyer – to set him free. In both versions of A Beggar’s Opera displayed here, Hogarth included the stage trappings and protagonists of the theatrical environment in which Gay’s work was first staged. An elaborate curtain hangs over the proceedings, and Hogarth paints recognisable portraits of such actors as Lavinia Fenton (dressed in white), who famously played Polly Peachum. Furthermore, Hogarth depicts the most fashionable members of the theatre audience sitting on the stage, as was commonplace at this time.

In the early version, the juxtaposition of the corrupt low-life characters on stage with the caricatured aristocratic audience that clusters around them seems especially acidic. In his later version, Hogarth produced grander, more elegant portrayals of the actors and the audience, emphasising a shared form of theatrical performance on the part of both groups.

William Hogarth
The Beggar’s Opera c.1728
Oil on canvas
492 x 566 mm
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery