Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, Heath edition


William Hogarth. Set of six images from the Harlot’s Progress. London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1822.  Images ca. 11 1/2 x 14 3/4.  Engraving by William Hogarth, ‘restored’ by James Heath. Some very minor stains at edges of margins; else excellent condition.


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  He was a perceptive observer and his illustrations of the social and political conduct of his day are fascinating historical documents and humorous depictions of human foibles, which have remained much the same over the last two centuries.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 reissued the folio twice, and the plates were later acquired by Baldwin, Cradock & Joy in 1818.  In 1822 the prints were “restored” by James Heath and reissued afresh.

This series of six prints shows the story of M. Hackabout, who arrives in London as an innocent young woman, but who inexorably is turned into a prostitute.  As the scenes evolve, she descends from being a kept woman to a common harlot, ends up in prison, then dies of venereal disease by the age of 23.