Hogarth’s portraits are notable for their representations of character and polite restraint combined with exquisite brushwork. The finest examples are shown here

Writing in 1755, the Swiss commentator André Rouquet noted that ‘portraiture is the kind of painting the most encouraged, and consequently the most followed in England.’ Most of Hogarth’s portrait clients were members of the mercantile, professional, ecclesiastical and scientific spheres. Accordingly, Hogarth’s portraits promoted particular kinds of virtue: for his male sitters, those of benevolence, energy, integrity and directness; for his female subjects, modesty, ease and polite restraint. These qualities are reinforced by the relative absence of flattering effect or painterly flashiness in Hogarth’s portraits.

At a time of European conflict, and of growing anxiety regarding the impact of French fashion on English culture, the unpretentious quality of Hogarth’s portraits also acquired patriotic connotations: for Hogarth’s supporters, his was seen to be a quintessentially English portraiture that distinguished itself from more affected, continentally influenced works. The artist ensured, however, that his pictorial plain-speaking did not extend to a puritanical or simplistic extreme. On close inspection, his single-figure portraits – in particular, his grand ecclesiastical works, and his depictions of women - are characterised by subtle, often exquisite forms of painterly display. Meanwhile, group portraits such as The Graham Children take English portraiture to new levels of pictorial complexity and emotional depth.

Works on display in this room:

William Hogarth
Captain Coram 1740
Oil on canvas
2363 x 1492 mm
The Coram Family in the care of The Foundling Museum, London

This canvas, of all his portraits, was the one that Hogarth was to look back on with most satisfaction. The monumental portrait of one of Georgian England’s greatest philanthropists was painted to showcase Hogarth’s commitment to the ideals of Coram’s Hospital for Foundling Children, of which the artist was a highly active governor, and – just as importantly – to advertise his abilities as a portraitist. Given free of charge, Hogarth’s full-length image was ensured plenty of attention in the Foundling Hospital’s public painting gallery, where it towered over the hospital’s numerous visitors, proclaiming both Coram and Hogarth’s virtues as the entrepreneurial and artistic representatives of a modern culture of benevolence.

William Hogarth
William Jones 1740
Oil on canvas
1270 x 1022 mm
National Portrait Gallery, London

Hogarth’s sitter was a distinguished mathematician who, having been born in modest circumstances, had risen to become a collaborator of Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley and a member of the Royal Society. This painting seems to have been commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, whose status as a governor of the Foundling Hospital would have brought him into contact with the artist, a fellow-governor. Hogarth’s depiction of Jones shares many of the characteristics of his portraits of Thomas Coram and George Arnold, displayed nearby. In particular, Hogarth’s painting combines an impression of dignity – reinforced by the detail of the classical column – with one of vitality and alertness.

William Hogarth
George Arnold c.1738–40
Oil on canvas 889 x 686 mm
Lent by the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This remarkable portrait, which despite its modest scale is deservedly one of the artist’s most celebrated works, crafts an image of pugnacious, non-aristocratic masculinity that is quite new in British art. This is conveyed through the no-nonsense expressiveness of the face and the figure being brought into dramatic close-up within the picture plain.

George Arnold was a successful merchant and alderman who, like so many of the patrons for Hogarth’s portraits, had been involved in the establishment of the Foundling Hospital. Having made his fortune, Arnold built himself a substantial country house in Northamptonshire, where this painting was destined to hang alongside the similarly sized picture of his daughter, displayed nearby.

William Hogarth
Frances Arnold c.1738–40
Oil on canvas
889 x 686 mm
Lent by the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

In a number of the conversation pieces that Hogarth painted in the 1730s the seated female figure was depicted instigating or awaiting the onset of polite conversation around a table. In this portrait, Francis Arnold plays an equivalently receptive and polite role and is pictured sitting with a straight back on a smartly upholstered red chair, raising her left hand from the edge of a gleaming table and gazing directly and calmly out at the viewer. Painted as if fully aware of the spectator’s presence, she presents herself as a poised and intelligent figure with whom any genteel interlocutor would be happy to engage in amiable conversation.

William Hogarth, 'Lavinia Fenton, Duchess of Bolton' circa 1740-50

William Hogarth
Lavinia Fenton, Duchess of Bolton circa 1740-50
Oil on canvas
support: 737 x 584 mm frame: 1085 x 925 x 140 mm
Purchased 1884

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William Hogarth
Lavinia Fenton, Duchess of Bolton circa 1740–50

Lavinia Fenton was an actress who rose to fame with her portrayal of the virtuous and affecting character of Polly Peachum in Gay’s Beggar’s Opera in 1728, and who featured in the artist’s early paintings of a climactic scene from this play, displayed in Gallery 2. After her performance as Polly she abandoned the stage to become the mistress of Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton, whom she eventually married in 1751. Hogarth’s portrait, painted some time after Fenton had given up her acting career, gestures gently to her status as a celebrated and privileged ‘beauty’.

William Hogarth, 'Mrs Salter' 1741

William Hogarth
Mrs Salter 1741
Oil on canvas
support: 762 x 635 mm frame: 1037 x 916 x 122 mm
Purchased 1898

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William Hogarth
Mrs Salter 1741

This portrait offers a fascinating example of how Hogarth could convey the supposed personal qualities of his female sitters not only through a particular representation of a woman’s face and dress but also through his handling of line and paint. Elizabeth Salter is pictured as someone whose expression, hairstyle and clothing typify the ‘decency in manners, discourse and dress’ that was noted as a characteristic of ideal English femininity by Hogarth’s friend André Rouquet. She is stripped of all traces of extravagance: her face, in particular, has an openness of address and lack of adornment that is surely meant to signify her sincerity and lack of ‘airs’.

William Hogarth
Mary Blackwood, Mrs Desaguliers c.1745
Oil on canvas 685 x 685 mm
Private collection

Hogarth famously claimed to be able to paint a portrait as well as Van Dyck. This work nods towards the conventions of courtly seventeenth-century portraiture as developed by Van Dyck and his successors. Of particular note here are the details of Mrs Desaguliers’s historicising costume, with its stiffened bodice and pendant jewel, and the ringlets of her hair that subtly fall onto the sitter’s cheek, forehead and shoulders. Through this kind of visual reference Hogarth not only promoted his own claims and ambitions as an artist but also assigned his sitter a more polished and aristocratic appearance than that enjoyed by most of his female subjects.

William Hogarth, 'Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester' 1741

William Hogarth
Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester 1741
Oil on canvas
support: 1273 x 1015 mm frame: 1910 x 1414 x 115 mm
Purchased 1910

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William Hogarth
Benjamin Hoadly, Bishop of Winchester 1741

The episcopal portrait was a prestigious but highly conservative branch of portraiture in this period, with long-established pictorial conventions that were rarely breached. In this powerful canvas Hogarth, while following the basic rules of this pictorial format, nevertheless manages to animate and enrich his portrayal through a sophisticated manipulation of gesture, expression and iconography and through a remarkable representation of his sitter’s formal dress. When he sat for this painting, Hoadly, an old intimate of Hogarth’s, was both Bishop of Winchester and Prelate of the Order of the Garter. As was traditional in such portraits, he is portrayed wearing the robes and insignia of these offices.

William Hogarth, 'Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury' 1744-7

William Hogarth
Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1744-7
Oil on canvas
support: 1270 x 1015 mm
Purchased 1975

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William Hogarth
Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1744–7

Thomas Herring was Hogarth’s most distinguished ecclesiastical subject. The cleric’s portrait was begun while he was Archbishop of York and was revised when in 1747 Herring was promoted to the see of Canterbury. In representing this unusually distinguished figure, Hogarth stripped his image of the symbolic paraphernalia with which he had surrounded Hoadly (displayed nearby), and – as in Van Dyck’s famous image of Archbishop Laud – produced instead an image that focused almost exclusively on Herring’s face, hands and bishop’s robes. Interestingly some commentators thought that Hogarth had added too much animation and character to the face and, in doing so, to have distorted an imagined facial ideal.

William Hogarth The Graham Children 1742

William Hogarth
The Graham Children 1742
Oil on canvas

© The National Gallery, London

William Hogarth
The Graham Children 1742

This justifiably famous painting, one of Hogarth’s largest group portraits, pictures the four children of Daniel Graham, contemporary London’s most successful apothecary. Their uniformly smiling faces suggest that they are happily enjoying each other’s company, while their graceful poses, exquisite dress and luxuriously appointed surroundings confirm both their individual refinement and their exceptionally privileged social status. However, the youngest child, Thomas, shown sitting on a toy go-cart on the left and reaching upwards towards either the hanging cage or the pair of dangled cherries, had actually died during the period in which this picture was being painted. 

William Hogarth
The Mackinen Children c.1742-1743
Oil on canvas
1829 x 1435 mm
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

This elegant painting, set on the terrace of a fictionalised country villa, fuses a sentimental, pastoral imagery of childhood innocence and devotion with a more contemplative engagement with themes of devotion, absence and time. Hogarth’s two subjects are Elizabeth and William Mackinen, born into a wealthy West Indian sugar dynasty. The portrait was painted while they were being educated in England. The sunflower had been deployed by previous artists – Van Dyck in particular – as a symbol of devotion and its presence in this picture might well allude to the relationship between brother and sister, or the devotion of their parents living in Antigua.