Hogarth and Ecton

William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an artist best known for his series of engravings of moral subjects such as The Rake’s Progress but it was as a portraitist that he came to be connected with Ecton, for in 1749 he painted a portrait of John Palmer, who, that year, inherited the manor of Cogenhoe.  This John Palmer was the builder in 1752 of the Poor School and should not be confused with his two much earlier namesakes, who were both rectors of Ecton. 

His portrait hung in the rectory drawing room for many years and was noted by John Cole, the early historian of Ecton, when he visited there around 1820.  Cole described two other Hogarth paintings in the same room.  One was the famous self-portrait called ‘The Painter and his Pug’, painted in 1745, but records show that in 1824 it was bought by the National Gallery from the Angerstein collection, where it had been since at least 1798, so the painting that Cole saw is likely to have been a copy.  The other picture was ‘The Village Justice’ (named by Cole as ‘The Village Magistrate’).  These pictures have long since left the village; the Palmer portrait is not even in England, having been bought by an American collector and put on display in a gallery at Yale University and ‘The Village Justice’ is in the National Gallery of Ireland.  The ‘Painter and his Pug’ is now in the Tate Gallery and featured in their recent exhibition celebrating the tercentenary of Hogarth’s birth.

A comment on John Cole’s speculation about Hogarth and the ‘World’s End’ appears elsewhere in this book.  What is possibly surprising is that, although Hogarth probably made several visits to Ecton when he was painting John Palmer’s portrait, no stories of him seem to have passed down to Cole’s time.  Hogarth was a colourful character who would surely have made a great impression on anyone who saw, heard or, particularly, was sketched by him.  Incidentally, if it was true that he needed only four fifteen-minute sittings to make a complete portrait,  (as he claimed in 1757), his time in Ecton would not have been extensive.

Hogarth had other friends in the county, notably the Arnolds of Ashby St Ledgers, whose portraits he also painted, and William Shipley, a drawing master, who had moved to Northampton in 1747.  It is interesting that Hogarth, Palmer and Shipley were all involved in philanthropic schemes - the Foundling Hospital in London, Ecton’s Poor School, and the Northampton County Infirmary respectively. 

Hogarth has been called, with some justification, the Father of British Art.  Let us hope that tangible evidence will eventually emerge to satisfy our curiosity about Ecton’s connection with one of its most celebrated visitors.