William Hogarth began his life in poor
circumstances. Born to a teacher of Latin
, 1697, his father attempted to earn more money for the family by becoming a business man. His first venture, a coffee house
, failed miserably, and they remained perpetually in debt
until William Hogarth's father was finally imprisoned in 1707. William himself got a more practical start to his career in 1713, signing on for an apprenticeship with an established silver engraver, Ellis Gamble. His training proceeded in the Rococo
tradition, an elegant and ornately decorative style that served as the last hurrah for the Baroque
period, and he enough talent that by 1720 he had his own business as an engraver of billhead
s and book
A profoundly determining factor of his career was a chance meeting with the artist Sir James Thornhill. Seeking to get a better grip of paintings depicting historic occurances, William made many visits to Thornhill's Covent Garden art academy and established a close friendship with him. Eventually, this led to meeting Thornhill's daughter, and the two hit it off splendidly, marrying in 1729. Under Thornhill's influence he produced a series of political satires of the then prime minister, Robert Walpole, called The Punishments of Lemuel Gulliver. Other works of his had more of a moral character, including The Rake's Progress and The Harlots Progress.
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, although not always the most respectful. Hogarth's work was popular enough that bookseller's ruthlessly copied and distributed it without paying royalties to Hogarth. Having made friends in Parliament of time of portraits and conversation, he waged a crusade to have the British Copyright Act of 1735. Flush with success from this latest endeavor, he established a school for instruction in painting called St. Martin Lane's Academy, which did extremely well. As he grew richer, he began to shift his attention towards elements of common life with depictions of lowerclass or rural English characters in everyday situations. This novel approach also drew him praise. He still used his talents for satire from time to time, with works such as The Election striking at the political corruption of polling during the time and The Times protesting war. Those friends who had aided him during his quest for new copyright standards became distressed by this new turn of focus, and John Wilkes specifically launched a scathing editorial attack on William Hogarth in 1762. William responded with his last major satirical work, an unflattering depiction of the MP called John Wilkes, Esq.. Falling gravely ill with paralytic seizures, he produced one final print before dying on October 25th, 1764.