Monday, January 3, 2011

Hogarth's The Graham Children

Perhaps William Hogarth's finest portrait would be his 1742 painting, The Graham Children.  The Graham whose children was portrayed was Daniel Graham, the king's personal pharmacist.  As you can probably tell by the children's fine clothing and the fine background, the king's apothecary made a good wage.  Something that also stands out is how beautifully rendered and happy the children are.  Hogarth had a great fondness for children (he was a founder of the Foundling Hospital) and his affections for them shine through in his painting. 

Like Hogarth's satirical pieces, the artist can not help himself and includes symbolism into the work.  Behind the children stands a clock with the bronze figure of Cupid wielding a scythe next to an hourglass which symbolizes death's triumph over love, hinting to viewers that this is a posthumous portrait.  My favorite aspect of the painting is the cat crawling up the chair to get closer to the the pet goldfinch who is quite unsettled by its new visitor.  From far away the feline has the "aww" factor but an up close examination delivers a more frightening perspective.  The cat's expression actually reminds me of of Sir John Tenniel's illustrations of the Cheshire Cat.  The direction of the boy and cat's eyes reflects the opposite plane of the composition in which the baby reaches upward for the cherries in his sister's hand.  The cherries which have somewhat of a scandalous symbolism today were a childhood symbol in Hogarth's time, the "fruit of paradise."

If you have been trying to figure out which of the child sitters had sadly passed at the time of the portrait it would be Baby Thomas which explained why the cherries were just out of his reach.  Hogarth created a fitting sentimental portrait of the Graham children which many would admired. Gone were the stiff child portraits, Hogarth brought a new standard for the sentimental family portrait.


  1. Lovely post Heather! Hogarth is a great way to start the year.

    I love how Hogarth is now widely regarded as 'The Peoples Painter' - I think he would have really liked that! I'll be featuring a piece on 'The Rakes Progress' in the not too distant future.

    All the best for 2011!

  2. Thank you, and the same to you! I agree, Hogarth is the type who'd be proud to have that title. He wasn't shy to have his portraits tell his true feelings about the sitters!

  3. Certainly the painting is a more meaningful memorial to little Thomas than anything else would be! It is good to remember happy times.

  4. I love this painting! Thank you for sharing it.

  5. That's such a lovely painting! :)

  6. It's wonderful to see this painting! They are my ancestors. :)