Hogarth was born in Bartholomew Close, near Smithfield Market, London, on 19 November 1697, the eldest surviving of the nine children of Richard Hogarth and Anne Gibbons. His father opened a coffeehouse when William was five, but it failed and his father was confined for debt. Hogarth lived with his family, from 1708 to 1712, within the jurisdiction of the Fleet prison, an experience he never forgot. Unable to aspire to anything higher, he was apprenticed in 1713 or 1714 to Ellis Gamble, a silver engraver. In 1720 he set up on his own as a print engraver, operating from home, and was an original subscriber to the academy of St. Martin's Lane founded by Louis Chéron and John Vanderbank.
Hogarth published his first satirical print in 1721, and his first major series in 1726. He began painting in about 1726 and achieved a rapid success, executing small genre and comic scenes, several versions of an episode from The Beggar's Opera, and conversation pieces, some with interior and others with outdoor settings. In 1729 he eloped with Jane Thornhill, the daughter of the eminent history painter Sir James Thornhill. The couple, forgiven, were allowed to move into Thornhill's house in the Great Piazza, Covent Garden, in 1731, but two years later they moved to Golden Head, Leicester Fields, where Hogarth remained for the rest of his life.
In 1730 Hogarth painted his first series of "modern moral Subject[s]," launching a subscription for engravings the following year; he was characteristically original in dispensing with both engraver and printseller, performing these functions himself. As a result of piracies of his engravings Hogarth instigated an Engraver's Copyright Act, delaying the publication of his second great moral series, A Rake's Progress, until the act became law in 1735. By this time, however, the Rake had already been pirated. Also in 1735 he founded the better known St. Martin's Lane Academy, where by all accounts he was an inspiring teacher; the academy quickly became the focus of avant-garde rococo art in Britain.
To forestall the commission's going to a foreigner, Giacomo Amiconi, Hogarth offered to paint without payment two large murals over the staircase of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital; he completed these in 1737. Enraged at the success of Jean-Baptiste Van Loo, another foreigner who had established himself in London in 1737, Hogarth turned to portraiture, and in 1740 presented his deliberately informal full-length of Captain Coram to the Foundling Hospital, of which he was a founding governor. With the idea of creating a permanent exhibition where fashionable patrons could admire the best in contemporary British painting, he coordinated the donation by artists of paintings that would hang in the Foundling Hospital offices; the newly decorated Court Room was unveiled in 1747. He also promoted the pictorial decoration at Vauxhall Gardens, the most popular of London's many pleasure gardens, which was owned by a friend of his.
In 1743 Hogarth traveled to Paris to hire engravers for Marriage à la Mode, published in 1745. The twelve plates of Industry and Idleness, cheap engravings intended for a wide public, for which no paintings were produced, followed in 1747. The artist made a second trip to Paris in 1748 and was expelled from Calais, having been accused of spying. The following year he bought a country house in Chiswick (now a Hogarth museum). He remained active during the 1750s, and in 1757 was appointed Serjeant Painter to the King. He resented Sir Richard Grosvenor's refusal to purchase Sigismunda, which in effect he had commissioned, and became increasingly embittered, a prey to persecution mania. He was ill for a whole year between 1760 and 1761. Although he contributed seven pictures to the Society of Artists exhibition in 1761, his health was in decline, and he died in Leicester Fields on 25 October 1764.
[Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 120-122.]
Oppé, Adolph Paul. The Drawings of William Hogarth. London, 1948.
Burke, Joseph, ed. William Hogarth: The Analysis of Beauty. Oxford, 1955.
Antal, Frederick. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London, 1962.