Hogarth: A Life and a World

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9780374171698: Hogarth: A Life and a World

William Hogarth is a house-hold name across the country, his 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.

Jenny Uglow, acclaimed author of Elizabeth Gaskell, Nature's Engraver and In These Times, uncovers the man, but also the world he sprang from and the lives he pictured. He moved in the worlds of theatre, literature, journalism and politics, and found subjects for his work over the whole gamut of eighteenth century London, from street scenes to drawing rooms, and from churches to gambling halls and prisons. After striving years as an engraver and painter, Hogarth leapt into lasting fame with A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress, but remained highly critical of the growing gulf between the luxurious lives of the ruling elite and the wretched poverty of the massess.

William Hogarth was 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.

Shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize, Hogarth: A Life and a World brings art history 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.

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Review:

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

Book Description:

William Hogarth: A Life and a World by Jenny Uglow is a comprehensive study of the eighteenth-century and an unforgettable portrait of William Hogarth.

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