On this day in 1764, one of the most iconic painters in the history of English art, William Hogarth, died. Beloved of court and public, Hogarth turned his hand to portraiture, caricature and satirical prints. His subjects ranged from the street vendor to his own beloved pug and, as we shall see today, the most noteworthy names in Georgian society.
Miss Mary Edwards of Kensington was a most singular sort. One of Hogarth's favourite portraits, the eccentric heiress inherited a fortune in her early twenties and she and the artist enjoyed a fruitful, close friendship as she brought commissions and inspiration to his door including a portrait of her own infant son and caricatures of society types who had once mocked her somewhat unorthodox approach to life.
When the time came to paint Mary herself in 1742, she was thirty seven years of age and had lived an eventful life, including marrying and then casting aside a most avaricious and scheming husband, Lord Anne Hamilton, whom she believed intended to relieve her of her fortune. In this oil painting Hogarth captured his adored patron perfectly, his brush picking out a kindly, playful and undeniably appealing face, the central figure of Mary in her vibrant red dress shining out against a formal dark background.
Behind Mary a globe and bust suggest wisdom and artistry respectively and she rests her hand on the head of a loyal, adoring dog, marking her out as a most dependable sort. Her clothes are fine yet not overly extravagant, the jewellery around her neck likewise ornate but not quite dazzling. As we can see from Mary's decision to leave her marriage rather than lose her fortune and place in the world, she loved and valued freedom and independence and the scroll at her elbow bears testament to this, reading:
Remember, Englishmen, the Laws and the Rights.
The generous plan of Power delivered down
From age to age by your renown’ed Forefathers. . .
Do thou, great Liberty, inspire their Souls!
This portrait is not simply that of one more sitter in the appointment book, it is a friend captured forever on canvas, Hogarth's brush showing us how highly he thought of this most illustrious lady. One year after Hogarth completed this lovely painting the lady was dead yet she lives on even now, vibrant, happy and adored, in this remarkable painting.