by Ronald Paulson

The Tercentenary of William Hogarth's birth in 1997 saw greater interest than ever in his life and works. Ronald Paulson's monumental three-volume biography is recognised as the definitive work on the artist.

- Vol I
- Vol II
- Vol III
- Reviews
- About the Author

Volume I: The Modern Moral Subject, 1697-1732

Ronald Paulson's authoritative study of the life of William Hogarth was first published in 1971 in two volumes. This latest work represents a fully revised and updated text in the light of the author's changing views on Hogarth and his art, and on the social and political issues of the period. The general growth of knowledge of and interest in the 18th Century, including the works of historians during the 70s and 80s and surveys of other English painters, have contributed substantially to Professor Paulson's reassessment.

In his study, Paulson sets out to discover answers to an entirely new set of questions: to examine not only the apparent nature of Hogarth's works, but also their underlying purpose, and the way in which the paintings are used to mythologise Hogarth's own life. Paulson wishes to differentiate those things Hogarth believed he was doing from those which, as part of the cultural milieu of the 18th Century, he was unconscious. From this study, Hogarth emerges as a more complex individual than that of the elitist Augustan satirist or the subversive popular artist.

Volume I charts the emergence of Hogarth the man, as well as being the story behind the creation of A Harlot's Progress. It also focuses on Hogarth's importance to the literary tradition as reflected in the writers who influenced him as a youth: the "Augustans" Butler, Dryden, Swift, Pope and Gay. Placing Hogarth in the context of the art of his times, Paulson examines the work of Thornhill, Kneller, Kent and the Burlingtonians, together with the aesthetics of Shaftesbury.

Specifications:   444pp, 112 b&w illustrations, 228mm x 152mm, cased with two-colour jacket
ISBN:0 7188 2854 2
Publication:May 1992

Volume II: High Art and Low, 1732-1750

The second volume in Paulson's definitive study of William Hogarth explores the peak of the artist's career, from A Harlot's Progress to The March of Finchley, and concentrates particularly on the production and consumption of his works. It plays out Hogarth's conflicting aims of producing a polite or popular art, for patrons or for the general public. It is also concerned with the central issue of Hogarth as painter and engraver.

Hogarth recognised that the art market was changing. Personal patronage was declining, art works were being commercialised, and a huge new market was opeing up. From his earliest professional training Hogarth had witnessed and participated in the employment of mechanical reproduction - printing and engraving - to create and extend cultural markets. The enterprising Hogarth set out to develop a new product corresponding to the expanding audience, especially appealing to those who wanted to maintain their own identity and not merely to emulate the upper class. Prints could now be seen in coffee houses and shop windows, therefore reaching an audience far beyond their owners. Art was no longer limited to the simple status of personal possession - this put in question the whole matter of property as it did of class.

Hogarth's interests extended straight down from the dukes and princesses of his conversation pictures to the lowest denizens of the London underworld. Although he makes clear in his graphic works that his sympathies lay with the "nobodies", at the same time his pictures, with their learned allusions and visual and verbal puns, also address themselves to an educated audience. He was at once both inside and outside the system.

Volume II also focuses on Hogarth's relationship to the emergent literary form - the novel of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Without Hogarth's graphic experiments of the 1730s, Richardson and Fielding would have written very differently.

Specifications:   508pp, 140 b&w illustrations, 228mm x 152mm, cased with two-colour jacket
ISBN: 0 7188 2855 0
Publication: June 1992

Volume III: Art and Politics, 1750-1764

This final volume of Paulson's magnificent biography takes Hogarth from his fifty-third year to his death at sixty-seven. The period opens with Hogarth at the height of his powers; a figure of influence with the literary generation of Richardson and Fielding, he was know to an unprecedented spectrum of English men and women. At this point, Hogarth chose to philosophise about art, extending his successful practice in aesthetic theory, in The Analysis of Beauty, partly in reaction to the agitation for an art academy based on the French model, partly out of the conviction that his art required verbal validation, and partly (some contemporaries felt) out of hubris. And at the same moment, the hard won fabric of his reputation began to unravel. A new generation had arisen, some friendly and interested in building on Hogarth's achievement, but some determined to supersede what seemed to be, in England of the 1750s, too insular a figure to represent English art and culture to the world.

The consequences - given his own doggedness and the shifting allegiances of former friends - were tumultuous and darkened the last years of Hogarth’s life, pushing him to extremes of theory, practise and self-justification. For the first time in his career he found himself apparently out of step with his times. Although these cannot be called happy years, they elicited form Hogarth some of his most brilliant and audacious works, in writing as well as painting and engraving. In many ways he had already, by 1750, anticipated the Reynold’s generation pointing the way into the Promised Land, but disagreeing over the nature of that promise.

More than the earlier two volumes, Art and Politics focuses on the reception of Hogarth and his works. The paranoid strain in Hogarth responded to the notion of being attacked; and this also reflected his increasing fear of the general audience he had himself helped to create as no longer a public but a crowd.

Specifications:   596pp, 115 b&w illustrations, 228mm x 152mm, cased with two-colour jacket
ISBN: 0 7188 2875 5
Publication: July 1993


"No one working in any field that Hogarth touched can afford not to begin with Paulson's splendid book."
Times Literary Supplement

"Beyond question, Professor Paulson's commentary will remain the most influential well into the next century."
The Sunday Telegraph

"To say that Paulson writes with authority would be an understatement; when it comes to Hogarth, Paulson is authority."
The Spectator

"This is the definitive work and, barring almost inconceivable future scholarly finds, will remain the definitive work."
Art in America

"Truly indispensable."
Studies in English Literature

"Paulson’s new trilogy is a substantial and brilliant revision of his original masterpiece."
Linda Colley, The Observer

"Paulson's study is densely packed with well-researched facts, and he evokes a strong sense of period and of the cultural milieu of London during the first part of the eighteenth century ... Hogarth reused props in different pictures. Paulson is excellent when describing these props and their significance."
Literary Review

"These very thoroughly researched books give us as much understanding of society, politics and life in England in the first half of the 18th century as they do about Hogarth... Presented in a well-organised way, and with a firm grasp of the balance that must be found between the literary and pictorial cotent of Hogarth's art."
The Art Book Review

About the Author

Ronald Paulson is Mayer Professor of Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. He is Hogarth's foremost biographer and is a noted critic of 18th Century art and literature. The publication of his biography helped gain recognition for Hogarth as a central figure in British art and culture.