Friday Art Cat: William Hogarth (1697-1764)



William Hogarth (1697-1764)


“The Graham Children”, Oil,  1742

You might be forgiven for thinking where is the cat in this picture of a bunch of children?  But suddenly you see it – the tabby cat on the right ready to pounce on the goldfish!

The young boy on the right is playing a music box or “serinette” decorated with scenes of Orpheus, whom according to Greek legend charmed animals with music.  Unaware of what is going on behind him, he smiles at the caged goldfinch – which is perhaps chirruping in accompaniment, or flapping its wings in an attempt to escape.

Despite this excitement, the clock on the mantelpiece is decorated with the figure of Cupid holding a scythe and standing beside an hour-glass, symbols of death.  We know that the baby was dead when the portrait was painted, and this must account for the sombre references to mortality, at a time when many children died in infancy.

Hogarth was born in 1697 near the East End cattle market of Smithfield. His father, Richard Hogarth, made an unsuccessful attempt to open a Latin-speaking coffeehouse, which left the family bankrupt, Richard confined to Fleet Prison, and the young William fending for himself.

After apprenticing at a silver workshop, where he mastered the art of engraving, Hogarth opened his own print shop. The artist’s first widespread notice came with the publication of The South Sea Scheme (1721), ridiculing the greed and corruption of stock market speculators. A Harlot’s Progress (1732) – which also features a cat – brought Hogarth tremendous success and celebrity, leading to a second morality series, A Rake’s Progress (1734).

Throughout the 1730s and 1740s, the artist’s reputation grew and so did his interest in social and moral reform. Hogarth’s work took on a distinctly propagandist tone, directed at the urbanization of London and the city’s problems with crime, prostitution, gambling, and alcoholism.

Hogarth died in 1764 in his home in Leicester Fields, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy. Working almost entirely outside the academic art establishment, he revolutionised the popular art market and the role of the artist. Hogarth strived to create works of great aesthetic beauty but also ones that would help to make London a better city for future generations.

“A Harlot’s Progress”, engraving,  1732


“The Cat 3500 Years of the Cat in Art” by Caroline Bugler.

Sara Day

I am an artist who makes work of animals and people.

Three cats live with me – Maine coon Orlando, Bengal Pandora and black moggy Rio.

Commissions welcomed.

Instagram: Sardine.Art

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9 thoughts on “Friday Art Cat: William Hogarth (1697-1764)


    Great article, but you need to say more! Don’t forget to mention The Four Stages of Cruelty, the series of engravings Hogarth published in 1751. The first print depicts a boy’s cruelty to both cats and dogs, and the other three engravings show the character’s increasing violence toward humans, culminating in his execution for murder. A surprising recognition of the link we’ve now “discovered” between abuse of animals and cruelty toward humans! Hogarth was a great animal artist — check out his 1745 self-portrait in the Tate London. It’s actually a double portrait, because the center of attention is the painter’s pug, which is seated beside him and actually looks like him.

  2. Hangaku Gozen says:

    I love the cat photobombing the otherwise sweet portrait of the children. Hogarth had a wicked sense of humor and a keen eye for the absurd in everyday life, but I also find this painting very tender as well. Some critics think the artist was a misanthropist, based on the awful scenes he portrayed in his engravings, many of them political (which might make anyone a misanthropist). I think his paintings, particularly the ones including animals, to be quite humane, however. He clearly liked these children and liked painting them, and their cat! (Maybe not so much the poor bird.)

  3. simon7banks says:

    I looked hard for the goldfish. Keying mistake or even silly computer correction for goldfinch. As the goldfinch is in a cage with narrow bars, the cat is unlikely to be able to get at it.

    It’s not politics that should make someone misanthropic – it’s human misery, which politics should aim to reduce. Hogarth produced political cartoons (early satire) and views of human misery. It is of course possible he enjoyed this, but the obvious purpose was to engage people’s feelings in trying to change things for the better. In that respect he resembles Dickens, but without Dickens’ sentimentality or tendency to oveload with detail.

  4. toutparmoi says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve seen prints of the painting several times, but would never have made out the detail on the clock or the music box. And yes, I did look for the “goldfish”, thinking there might be one in a bowl between the goldfinch and the cat…

    I love the expression on the cat’s face, so clearly enchanted by the bird rather than the music.

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