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HOGARTH by Jenny Uglow

HOGARTH

A Life and a World

By Jenny Uglow

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-374-17169-6
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Striving for the lively ``composed variety'' that Hogarth said characterized his own work, this latest biography fixes the engraver and painter in his rich 18th-century milieu. Uglow, biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot (1987), joins the long procession of Hogarth chroniclers and critics, from the contemporary anecdotes of Hogarth's fellow artist George Vertue to the authoritative three-volume opus of art historian Ronald Paulson. William Hogarth was 18th-century Britain's defining genius, a native artist who combined realism with caricature in representing his times. Steeped in the artist and the era alike, Uglow approaches her subject with enthusiasm and affection, though she enjoys explicating his works more than his character. Hogarth's pugnacious ambition propelled him from a humble, dull apprenticeship as a silver engraver to the most popular printmaker of his day and a turbulent life as an independent artist. His ambition endeared him to the likes of Fielding and David Garrick, but it also lost him placement as a painter in the Hanoverian court and among his more classical peers. Uglow's familiar portrait of this careerist of genius is freely embellished throughout with digressions into the environment and events that inspired him, including the multitudinous London of his ``modern moral subjects,'' the progresses of his harlot and rake; the Foundling Hospital and his groundbreaking portrait of its founder, Captain Thomas Coram; the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745; and the contentious General Election of 1754, wonderfully skewered in Hogarth's Election series. Although he may have overreached himself in later years with his tendentious treatise, The Analysis of Beauty, and his untaken bid at Old Mastery, Sigismonda, he was always a lively and entertaining figure, always bustling and skirmishing with the artistic establishment. Hogarth and his century were never dull, nor is Uglow's expansive, diverting book. (200 b&w illustrations, 14 color plates, not seen)