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William Hogarth

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William Hogarth

by William Hogarth
oil on canvas, circa 1757-1758
17 3/4 in. x 16 3/4 in. (451 mm x 425 mm)
Purchased, 1869
Primary Collection
NPG 289

Sitterback to top

  • William Hogarth (1697-1764), Painter and engraver. Sitter associated with 19 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 128 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • William Hogarth (1697-1764), Painter and engraver. Artist or producer associated with 128 portraits, Sitter associated with 19 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This modest self-portrait shows Hogarth painting Thalia, the Muse of Comedy. X-ray analysis reveals that the picture originally contained an image of his dog relieving himself against a pile of Old Master paintings. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 44
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bond; Anthony; Woodall, Joanna, Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary, 2005 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October - 29 January 2006), p. 130
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 52
  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 16
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 61
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 52 Read entry

    Here is the painter, patriot and moralist as he saw himself, palette and brushes in the left hand, knife in the right, shaven head topped by a velvet cap as he leans eagerly forward to pay a painter's tribute to his inspiration the Comic Muse, which he has already outlined in chalk on the canvas. The position of Hogarth's body and the angle of the easel invite us to share in the process, to recognise that we, the viewers, are part of the comedy, both subject of its narrative and object of its moral lessons. It is a very direct painter's manifesto, proclaiming the balance between craft and intellect, between medium and message, that characterised Hogarth's work.

    Thus the painting appears, and very appropriate in its professional respectability for a governor of the Foundling Hospital and recently appointed Sergeant-Painter to the king. Hogarth made etched versions of the portrait, with minor variations, seven times between c.1758 and 1764, so we can assume that he considered it an acceptable image. But underneath is another story, revealed by radiography in 1968 and 1971. Here, Hogarth's body is more upright, seated probably on a stool and closer to the viewer. There is no easel, although the high lead content of the paint used in the later addition of it, being opaque to X-ray, makes it appear prominent. Instead, a nude model or models sit on a platform, posing for one of Hogarth's history paintings which cannot be identified.

    This hidden composition is another manifesto, a more aggressive and pungent one than the final image. Here Hogarth asserts his own ability and challenges the dominance of foreign - particularly Italian - painters in the field of history painting. His father-in-law Sir James Thornhill had lost work to them, notably to Jacopo Amigoni, and when Hogarth heard that the Italian was pitching for the commission to decorate St Bartholomew's Hospital, he kept him out by volunteering, as an Englishman, to take on the job free of charge - and was accepted.

    To reinforce his personal and patriotic message, Hogarth enlists his alter ego, the pug dog. In the bottom left-hand corner of the X-ray the little animal cocks its leg over two framed canvases which we can safely assume represent paintings by foreign masters, a crude scatalogical dismissal of the worth of many such images as shipped back to Britain by wealthy Grand Tourists, or that passed through the picture dealers to the detriment of home-produced art. This canine dimension of Hogarth's self-image - small, fierce, impudent, watchful, faithful to his aesthetic principles, literally dogged - was suppressed in favour of a less polemical, more conventional representation of artistic endeavour.

  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 144
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 58 Read entry

    Hogarth’s painting is small, domestic in scale, and informative- he demonstrates, for instance, how to organise paint, form light to dark pigment, on his palette. On the grey ground of his canvas the white outline of the Comic Muse is visible, the classical metaphor for the inspiration behind his popular moralising series of satirical paintings including The Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode.

  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 31
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 96
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 96 Read entry

    In contrast to Reynolds, who always saw himself as a higly professional artist, the friend of men of letters and the social equal of many of his sitters, Hogarth cultivated a much rougher and more self-consciously belligerent idea of himself as a native-born talent, able to compete with other artists but on his terms rather than theirs. Some of these attitudes are evident in his self-portrait, in which he depicts himself sitting down, palette in hand and painting a picture of the comic muse which, as with so much of his work, teeters on the edge of parody. Not least he shows himself dressed casually, without a wig and with a maroon velvet cap askew. X-rays have also revealed that in the portrait as originally painted, there was a dog peeing on some Old Master paintings in the corner.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 307
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 106 Read entry

    William Hogarth was one of the most important artists in eighteenth-century Britain. Renowned for his satirical paintings and engravings, he was also a talented and sensitive portraitist, painting mostly small-scale conversation pieces depicting family groups in domestic environments. His ‘modern moral subjects’, such as The Harlot’s Progress (1731) or the ‘Election’ series (1755–8), demonstrate his personal mission to establish modern life, including low subjects, as an appropriate matter for high art. He was also determined to improve the status of British art against the prevailing taste for Old Master paintings and the work of Continental artists. To do this he helped establish the Saint Martin’s Lane Academy (1735) and instituted the Engraver’s Copyright Act (1735) to protect artists’ work from piracy. His theoretical art treatise The Analysis of Beauty (1753) challenged established academic theory by promoting ‘variety’ and nature over the ideal.

    This informal self-portrait shows him painting Thalia, the classical Muse of Comedy, in a composition that asserts the intellectual and moral value of the comic history painting in which Hogarth specialised. X-rays reveal that the picture originally contained a nude model instead of his easel, and the painter’s dog urinating on a pile of Old Master paintings to signify his commitment to working from nature.

  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 7

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1757back to top

Current affairs

Admiral Sir John Byng is executed by firing squad aboard HMS Monarch in Portsmouth harbour for failing to prevent the loss of Minorca to the French.
William Pitt the Elder resigns from government after his failure to achieve success in the Seven Years War. He is recalled to government in June in coalition with former Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle.

Art and science

Designer Robert Adam returns to London after two years in Rome with a repertoire of classical themes which will form the basis of a new British neo-classicism.
Edmund Burke publishes his seminal work A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful.
Philosopher David Hume publishes The Natural History of Religion.
Artist William Blake is born in Soho, London.


Seven Years War: Victory for British ally, Frederick the Great, at Rossbach and Leuthen. Defeats for the British in India and Canada followed by British victory at the Battle of Plassey, led by Robert Clive, which secures British control of Bengal. British troops oust the Nawab of Bengal Siraj ud-Daulah and replace him with his uncle the pro-British Mir Jafar.
Italian pastellist Rosalba Carriera dies in Venice.

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