Why would a painter paint a self-portrait? It is because expenses for a model can be saved, a customer’s preference doesn’t have to be considered, and it is the best genre to reveal a painter’s capabilities and identity. However, the self-portrait of William Hogarth, an 18th-century British painter, is unique in a lot of aspects. It was painted like a still-life painting, featuring a dog. Why did he paint such a self-portrait?
Hogarth earned fame as a painter and printmaker with his outstanding talent even though he did not receive official art training due to his poor background. In particular, he became well-known for his painting series satirizing the corrupt upper class, greedy clerics, and the moral-less lower class. In his late 30s when he was highly successful, Hogarth began painting his self-portrait, which took him 10 years to finish. He wanted to reveal his artistic belief and ambitions through the self-portrait. He first was painted as an aristocrat in a formal outfit with a wig but changed it later. The books propping up the oval-shaped canvas of the self-portrait are the ones by great British writers William Shakespeare and John Milton and satirist Jonathan Swift. They are the writers who inspired Hogarth. On the left side of the palette, it says “Line of Beauty and Grace,” which represents the painter’s artistic belief. The pug sitting quietly on the right side is his pet, Trump. The pugs were well-loved by European royal families and aristocrats in the 17th and 18th centuries for their quiet and gentle nature. Hogarth’s pet dog Trump was different. He was aggressive and liked to fight. A dog owner tends to like a dog similar to himself, and Hogarth was infamous for his aggressive personality. The pug in the picture is the painter’s alter ego and symbolizes his aggressiveness.
Not only insight and humor but also courage is needed to satirize the corrupt people in power or the upper class. There should be a way to escape when an issue emerges. Perhaps, that is why Hogarth painted his jacket as if it is part of the fabric in the background – as if he can escape like smoke or hide behind curtains any time.