The independent London newspaper

There was more to William Hogarth

09 September, 2021

William Hogarth self-portrait, detail, 1732-5

• THE review of the Jacqueline Riding biography (Roundabout Hogarth, August 26) didn’t give the full picture.

He seems to have sketched ad lib anywhere. The artist often does need to be something of a nosy tramp, taking pencil and pad to the streets, away from the more formal studio.

The obvious spontaneity of The Shrimp Girl and The Graham Children appears to stem from his peripatetic approach to art. But being outdoors and adventurous could land him into trouble.

He was suspected of being a spy as he was drawing in Calais. He so resented being arrested that he recorded the embarrassing event in his The Roast Beef of Old England.

What an unfortunate “John Bull” title! In this he shows himself at Calais Gate while nobly and earnestly drawing. He is surrounded by hired Irish fighters, famished, ugly French soldiers, and despairing Jacobite refugees.

Unfortunately, then, William Hogarth could be very chauvinistic. He wasn’t just charitable. The same as all of us, he had a darker side.

Art, I would suggest, shouldn’t be about a moral or message. Art is only itself.

The article mentioned him as a benefactor for the poor and sick in central London. But he actually resided in what is today Hogarth House, in Chiswick, now behind the sandstone walls along the anonymous A40.

Meanwhile, a relatively new statue of him stands in Chiswick High Street. It shows him in a painter’s smock, with a brush and palette in hand, and his dog at his feet. We see, here, art as just another occupation, as simply a matter of quotidian work rather than of the spirit.

I would have preferred, in somewhat stuck-up Chiswick, a terribly risque memorial in the spirit of A Harlot’s Progress or A Rake’s Progress.

Mackenzie Close, W12


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