Van Gogh •
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William Hogarth, painter and social critic, was born in London. As an apprentice, he learned copper engraving, book
illustration, and the making of bookplates and show cards. When he gained his independence in 1720, he began to study
painting with Sir James Thornhill, a painter of baroque decorations. After marrying his teacher's daughter, Hogarth started
his own career as a portraitist. He described his own works as "moral subjects. . .similar to representations on the stage"
and wished them to be considered and judged like dumb shows. In 1731, six paintings collectively called "The Harlot's Progress"
appeared and the following year Hogarth engraved the series for a large and enthusiastic popular audience. Other series
followed - "The Rake's Progress", "Marriage à la Mode", "The Four Times of Day" - as well as single works depicting the
life of his period. All of these teach by example, pointing out the foibles of the rich and the depths of degradation of
those who have fallen from the narrow path of middle-class virtue.
The paintings, crowded with a fascinating gallery of psychological and physical caricatures and portraits, illustrate
(satirically) the same world depicted by such moralizing novelists and Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson. The individual
paintings are crammed with detail and allusions to each other so that the viewer has the sensation of reading a story
without words but with familiar characters, objects, and settings. The works are as bright and lively as some of the
works of Watteau and as evidently delighted with human nature as
those of Frans Hals or Jan Steen. The moralizing, although clear, is never
obtrusive or depressing, and these series are extremely important historical and social documents. Hogarth was not always
as successful with his purely historical paintings and his sincere and powerful portraits in which, nevertheless, his
keen understanding of human nature and his ability to paint both boldly and minutely are more than evident.