Born and raised in Smithfield, between the hospital and the debtor's prison, William Hogarth witnessed greed and cruelty, crime and disease, the "scummy, solid and stinking" Holborn River, the lively spectacle of "waxworks, rope-dancing and music booths" and "obscene, lascivious and scandalous plays, comedies and farces" otherwise known as Bartholomew Fair. He walked past brewers' barrels, fish stalls, ungrateful beggars, and all orders of fops, harlots and chimney sweeps--and, luckily for us, captured his vibrant 18th-century surroundings with a satirical, exacting and often tender eye.
Uglow's detailed attentions to the historical facts of the day enliven and educate this fascinating portrait of the artist. We learn, for instance, that in Hogarth's revision of "The Distressed Poet", a caricature of Alexander Pope was replaced with a relatively innocuous engraving of a poem, thereby lessening his chances of making enemies with an influential figure. With splendidly detailed explanations and asides such as these, Uglow is never plodding, never dry. Particularly amusing is her explanation of the six-plate series titled "Marriage a la Mode", and her insightful unravelling of that by-gone custom known as arranged marriage. For those who prefer to learn their history with a smile, Uglow provides a splendidly entertaining and well-researched volume. --Martha Silano
Hogarth's prints hang in our pubs and leap out from our history-books. He painted the great and good but also the common people. His art is comically exuberant, 'carried away by a passion for the ridiculous', as Hazlitt said. In this rich, immensely pleasurable biography Jenny Uglow, acclaimed author of Elizabeth Gaskell, uncovers the man, but also the worlds he sprang from and created. After striving years as an engraver and painter, Hogarth leapt into lasting fame with his progresses of the Harlot and the Rake, the fashionable Marriage à la Mode, and the violent scenes of Gin Lane and the Stages of Cruelty. An artist of flamboyant, overflowing imagination, he was a satirist with an unerring eye; a painter of vibrant colour and tenderness; an ambitious professional who broke all the art-world taboos. Never content, he wanted to excel at everything - from engraving to history painting - and a note of risk runs through his life. In Hogarth: A Life and a World, art history comes to life in the voices of Hogarth's own age. The result is an unforgettable portrait of a great artist and a proud, stubborn, comic, vulnerable man.