Hogarth and English Caricature

Hogarth and English Caricature

Hogarth and English Caricature

Hogarth and English Caricature


This is a picture book about popular art in England during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Its characteristic product was the print taken from a copper plate engraved or etched by the artist, sometimes in the more elaborate technique of aquatint or mezzotint. It was often coloured by hand in the shop where it was sold, either as a separate print or as part of a series. The usual price was 6d. for plain and 1s. for coloured prints, only the larger and more elaborate engravings were sold at higher prices, but even these rarely exceeded a few shillings. The older technique of wood-engraving also survived, but until Thomas Bewick revolutionized this process it was generally confined to the even cheaper market catered for by the street hawkers. Towards the end of the period the copper engraving was gradually ousted by the lithograph.

Contemporary views of interiors show these prints pinned up as wall decorations in homes, workshops or inns; during the 1790s they were collected in folios and hired out for the evening; the rival print shops advertised permanent exhibitions of 'the largest collection of caricatures in the world, entrance 1s.', and their window displays were focal points of interest for those who could not afford the entrance fee.

Based as they were on a popular market and depending on a large turnover, these prints reflected what was uppermost in the public mind, and their appeal was generally satirical. Their popularity is attested by their huge volume. The British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires records 8,082 items for the period from 1720 to 1800 alone, and even this vast collection is far from complete.

It was this insatiable demand of important sections of the people for pictorial satire that made this mass of prints a distinct tradition, essentially English and essentially of its time (it began towards the end of Queen Anne's reign and broke off c. 1840). But it also has a unity of style founded on the achievement of an artist of genius. Hogarth's role as the father of English caricature is inseparable from his achievement as the first British painter of international rank. British painting retained its position as a leading school in Europe just as long as the popular tradition which is the subject of this essay remained a vital movement. Both were facets of a single culture, each continually enriched the other.

Sources--(a) Medieval Satire

Foremost among the ingredients of Hogarth's art are his all-absorbing interest in contemporary life and his forthright comment on it. These he shared with the under- current of popular satire which had persisted since the pre-Christian era throughout Europe. In medieval times it left its mark in marginal illuminations of manuscripts, ornamental features of buildings, and carvings on misericords and other parts of church furniture. But it was the invention of printing which gave this popular art its widest currency. It continued to flourish far into the nineteenth century in the woodcuts illustrating the popular chapbooks and the broadsheets which were hawked in the streets of London, in country towns and in the remotest villages.

That Hogarth was conscious of this tradition and even used this channel to reach the broadest possible market for art, is shown by the powerful woodcuts of the last . . .

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