This summer, I visited Hogarth House in Chiswick; the home of famed English portrait painter, satirist and engraver, William Hogarth (1697 – 1764). The museum is not large, but definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. Hogarth spent the final fifteen years of his life here and made an impact on the local culture and community. Why was Hogarth such an important London personality?
Who was William Hogarth?
William Hogarth was born in London on November 10, 1697. Hogarth apprenticed under an engraver in his youth and enjoyed sketching the colourful characters and bustle of city life he saw on London’s busy streets. He was a poignant satirist and drew from the difficulties of Georgian life, such as the disastrous market crash of 1720, poverty, debtor’s prisons and the rowdy coffee-house culture for his artistic inspiration. Hogarth was well known for his moralising art work which unapologetically captured the darker side of Georgian London; works such as A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, Marriage à-la mode, The Four Stages of Cruelty, Industry and Idleness and probably his most famous, Beer Street and Gin Lane. Hogarth enjoyed the company of many famous writers, artists and actors of the day. In 1757, he was appointed Sergeant Painter to the king, replacing the post once held by his father-in-law, John Thornhill. Although the position only paid £10 per year, it brought with it the royal seal of approval, renown, and sole proprietorship over the painting of royal banners, properties, vehicles and ceremonial pieces. At one pojnt it was estimated that this plumb role garnered Hogarth and extra £200 income per year (which at this time was a vast sum). As well as being an artist, Hogarth was a Freemason and a member of The Sublime Society of Beefsteaks (a men’s dining club). Het also helped found The Foundling Hospital in 1741 which cared for and sheltered abandoned children. Hogarth died in his home on October 26th, 1764 at the age of 66. He is buried in the nearby cemetery of St. Nicholas’s Churchyard in Chiswick.
The History of Hogarth House
William Hogarth and his wife Jane Thornhill moved to Chiswick in 1749 to be away from the clamour of Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square). He lived in the house with his wife, her mother, her cousin Mary Lewis, his sister Anne and a wealthy spinster named Julian Bere. The women remained living in the house after Hogarth’s death in 1764. The home contained a garden with apricot, walnut and cherry trees along with its most famous resident, a mulberry tree in the front yard that dates to the 1670s. The Hogarth’s were not the first residents of the house – it was built between 1713-1717. It was initially occupied by Reverend George Andreas Ruperti and his family. Hogarth bought the property from Ruperti’s son after the Reverend’s death.
Hogarth had no children of his own but he and his wife did foster children and were strong supporters of The Foundling Hospital Hogarth had helped establish. They built an extension onto the house and where Hogarth kept a “painting room” at the bottom of the garden. After his death, his wife added another storey to the home. When Jane Hogarth died, her cousin Mary Lewis took care of the home until her death in 1808. Famous actors and poets lived in the house after Hogarth. It was restored in 1890 by local Chiswick printer, Alfred Dawson. After various restoration efforts, it was purchased and currently belongs to Hounslow Council. Sadly, the house sustained some damage in a fire in August 2009. However, the refurbishment that followed managed to reveal original parts of the house. The house displays Hogarth’s original prints and some of his possessions, as well as information about his life and family. You can also walk around the grounds and enjoy the lovely garden that contains the 344 year old mulberry tree. There is a modern art exhibit attached to the home that you can view for free as well. It is not a museum you will linger in for hours because of its size, but it is still a fascinating piece of London’s history and well worth a visit.
The Georgian period spanned from 1714 – 1830 (overlapping the Regency period of 1811-1820). It was a time of great change and social upheaval. This era witnessed the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Abolition of Slavery, prison reform, the South Sea Bubble market crash, the rise of mercantilism, and a great movement for social change with the founding of hospitals and orphanages. The highs and lows of Georgian society formed much of the narrative behind many of Hogarth’s works, especially the moral pieces that commented on London’s raucous and seedy side. Hogarth’s raw depictions of London life exposed prostitution, greed, violence and the ugly side of commerce in sketches and paintings. He is considered the forerunner of the modern day comic and newspaper satire. He was the first artist to tell serialised stories through art and he remains a window onto the daily life and struggles of Georgian London.