William Hogarth (1697-1764) is considered by many to be the greatest English caricaturist of all time. He was a perceptive observer and his illustrations of the social and political conduct of his day are fascinating historical documents and humorous depictions of human foibles, which have remained much the same over the last two centuries. Hogarth was a painter of considerable accomplishment but it is for his prints that he is best known.
Originally, Hogarth sold his prints in his own shop, as well as through other printsellers in London. In the mid-1730s he began also to sell his prints in bound form. Hogarth’s fame spread and his popularity grew. However, while his prints sold well, Hogarth was constantly bothered by the sale of cheap copies. In response, he was instrumental in the 1735 passage of the Engravers’ Copyright Act, often called “Hogarth’s Act,” which prohibited the unauthorized copying of a print for fourteen years following its publication. Early in his career, a number of Hogarth’s plates were acquired by other printsellers, but most he retained in his possession until his death, leaving them in his will to his widow, Jane Hogarth. Jane continued to issue prints from these plates and she was able to secure an extended copyright of 20 years beginning in 1767. Upon Jane’s death in 1789, the plates passed into the possession of printmaker, John Boydell. Boydell sold prints taken from these original plates as separate images “suitable for framing,” but also in 1790, the year he was Lord Mayor of London, Boydell issued an atlas folio with 103 prints entitled The Original Works of William Hogarth. This print is one of two classical images done by Hogarth of biblical scenes. It shows St Paul declaiming before the Roman procurator of Judea, Marcus Antonius Felix.