The works of William Hogarth
Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, London, 1822.
Binding: 50 x 65.5 x 7 cm. Cloth on board, quartered with Morocco, gilt decorative rules, banded spine, two red title labels, some wear. Water-damaged and torn, this volume has been restored and re-bound in the late 1960’s, and is incomplete.
This is the edition of the complete works of William Hogarth produced by James Heath in 1822. Heath had restored the copper plates himself, re-cutting and deepening the lines and stipples, and after this edition, they were unworkable, so these are considered the last genuine ‘original’ prints.
William Hogarth 1697-1764 was the first English artist to win an international reputation. His father had experienced life as a ‘poor scholar’, doing hack work for publishers, running a (failed ) Latin-speaking coffee-house, spent five years in the debtor’s prison, and is thought to have fostered Hogarth’s lifelong distrust of publishers and print-sellers, despite working as an engraver.
In 1728 Hogarth reinvented himself as a painter, with the Beggar’s Opera being his earliest dated painting. He embarked on painting humorous scenes of everyday life, beginning with A Harlot’s Progress (1731), and created a whole new genre of art, ‘pictorial dramas’ that combined narrative detail with an air of theatricality that fitted with the culture of the time, enabling him to reach a wide public through the means of engraving.
He followed up the success of this series with the eight pictures in A Rake’s Progress (1735), although he delayed the publication of the engravings until after the passing of the Copyright Act of 1735 (known as Hogarth’s Act), which provided him with some protection against pirates. The success of these two great series ensured that he was financially secure at this stage.
He became increasingly bitter at what he felt was his exclusion from high society and the art establishment, and began investigating what art might be about. This resulted in his treatise, The Analysis of Beauty (1753) in which he attempted to define the principles of beauty and grace which he saw as being realised in serpentine lines – which he termed ‘Lines of Beauty’.
The book got a hostile reception from his fellow artists, and became the subject of ridicule. In June 1757 he was appointed Serjeant-Painter to the King, an occasion of immense pride as he had received the stamp of royal approval and a guaranteed income of several hundred pounds a year. Despite this apparent success, he was increasingly falling out of step with the times.
James Heath (1757– 1834) was himself a highly successful English engraver, enjoying royal patronage and an associate engraver of the Royal Academy. His father was a bookbinder, and he was steeped in the book trade, illustrating many books and in 1802 publishing his own six-volume illustrated edition of Shakespeare. He later specialized in producing large plates, and kept a large number of apprentices. The year after this book was published, he retired from his profession and his stock of proofs and other engravings was sold in 1823.