William Hogarth (1697-1764) was exceptional. In our day we have no-one quite like him.
He began his career as a commercial engraver, and began to produce images for sale that exposed social and moral evils in contemporary life, from ‘Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme’, published in 1724, to the great narrative series, A Harlot’s Progress (1732), A Rake’s Progress (1735), Marriage A-la-Mode (1743), Industry and Idleness (1747) and the pair Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751).
He was a humane and sensitive portrait-painter, among whose works are a picture of the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram (1740), a lively study of a ‘The Shrimp Girl’ (1740-45), ‘David Garrick as Richard III’ (1745) and a self-portrait with his dog, Trump, ‘The Painter and his Pug’ (1745).
He maintained a home and studio in Leicester Square, then called Leicester Fields, and by 1749 he could afford to buy a country retreat on the edge of Old Chiswick where he lived with his wife, Jane, the daughter of the painter Sir James Thornhill. He was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas’, Chiswick, his monument inscribed by his friend, the actor David Garrick (1717-1779):
Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach’d the noblest point of Art
Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart.
Though the Hogarths were childless, they maintained a lively household of relatives, while William made himself a retreat, his “painting room”, over the coach-house at the end of the garden. The property remained in the family until the death of his wife’s cousin, Mary Lewis, in 1808.
The house passed through a succession of owners until 1901, when Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Shipway of Grove House, Chiswick bought it to prevent its demolition and opened it to visitors in 1904, showing examples of Hogarth’s works and replica furniture based on his illustrations. He gave it to Middlesex County Council in 1909 and it remains in local-authority hands, latterly managed by the London Borough of Hounslow. Entry is free and donations are welcomed: Home – Hogarth’s House | London Borough of Hounslow (hogarthshouse.org). It was damaged by a parachute mine in 1940 but restored and reopened in 1951. During a later restoration in 2008-09 a fire caused repairable damage while the house was empty of its contents, and the site reopened to the public in 2011.
It’s a delightful retreat, a welcoming, intimate contrast to the hard, chilly splendours of Chiswick House up the road. The rooms are elegant, yet modest enough for quiet conversation.
It has the same atmosphere of intimacy and grace as the Ladies of Llangollen’s Plas Newydd in north Wales.
The windows look out on the garden, which is bounded by a high brick wall which diminishes even the noise of modern traffic queueing to negotiate the dystopic road junction that carries the name Hogarth Roundabout.
In the mid-eighteenth century it must have been a haven for a busy, creative, sociable artist.