Close X
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10am - 5pm
Wednesday: 10am - 5pm
Thursday: 10am - 5pm
Friday: 10am - 5pm
Saturday: 10am - 5pm
Sunday: 11am - 5pm


Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

The Original British Satirist: William Hogarth’s An Election Series

[ Stories )

With a General Election just around the corner, what better time to examine the work of political satirist and British artist William Hogarth? Long before the age of social media, 24-hour news and party political broadcasts, Hogarth captured the messy chaos and corruption of politics in 18th Century Britain. Let’s take look a through Hogarth’s An Election series, a collection of four prints held by Pallant House Gallery.

Who was William Hogarth?

Hogarth was born in 1697 and grew up in London. From an early age he took an interest in the street life of the city, observing and sketching the people around him. He began his artistic career as an engraver, working on coats of arms, shop bills and bookplates. His satirical work began in the 1720s, responding to a stock market crash. Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme shows a disordered crowd all eager to ride a rickety merry-go-round. From there his career as an artist took off. As a result of his success, his engravings were regularly plagiarised and he lobbied for the 1735 Copy Right Act in order to protect the work of writers and artists.

Hogarth died in 1764 and was buried in St Nicholas Church, Chiswick in West London. His friend, actor David Garrick composed an inscription for his tombstone which reads:

Farewell great Painter of Mankind

Who reach’d the noblest point of Art

Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind

And through the Eye correct the Heart.


If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,

If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:

If neither move thee, turn away,

For Hogarth’s honour’d dust lies here.


Four Prints of An Election

Hogarth’s last and most famous ‘modern moral subject,’ is a biting political satire consisting of four prints. It’s based in the fictional constituency of ‘Guzzledown,’ but its true inspiration was the very real and scandalous Oxfordshire election of 1754. This particular election saw unprecedented levels of corruption and bribery, with both parties—Old Interest (the Tories) and New Interest (the Whigs)—doing whatever it took to sway voters. Hogarth’s series paints a vivid panorama of the political scene in 18th-century Britain, teeming with chaos and corruption.


William Hogarth [1697 – 1764), An Election Entertainment, 1755, Purchased by the Friends of Pallant House Gallery (1988)

Our journey begins with An Election Entertainment. A boisterous gathering at an inn where the Whigs are treating potential voters to a feast. But this is no ordinary feast—it’s a satire-laden parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The handsome candidate, Sir Commodity Taxem, endures the unwelcome affections of an old woman, while a young girl eyes his ring, ready to pilfer it. In the foreground, a Quaker scrutinises a bribe, and a butcher gleefully pours gin over a bruiser’s head.

Meanwhile, the local mayor is being bled by an apothecary after indulging in too many oysters, and a Whig attorney topples from his chair after being struck by a brick. Outside, the Tories protest with an anti-semitic effigy labeled “No Jews,” referencing the Whig-passed act allowing foreign Jews to become naturalised. A banner inscribed ‘MARRY AND MULTIPY IN SPITE OF THE DEVIL’ which refers to the 1753 Marriage Act passed by the Whig Administration that aimed to eliminate scandalously ‘irregular’ marriage ceremonies. The print is dedicated to Henry Fox, who disapproved of such a bill. Fox had eloped with the Duke of Richmond’s daughter and enjoyed a great deal of influence as a result this clandestine arrangement.


William Hogarth [1697 – 1764), Canvasing for Votes, 1757, Purchased by the Friends of Pallant House Gallery (1988)

Next up is Canvassing for Votes, where bribery and corruption are on full display. At the Tory headquarters, the Royal Oak Inn, the Whig Duke of Newcastle (represented by Mr. Punch) showers supporters with gold coins. The innkeeper’s wife tallies bribes, while the Tory candidate buys trinkets to woo potential female influencers.

Meanwhile, the Whig headquarters at the Crown Inn has been converted into an Excise Office. Angry Tories attack the building, protesting taxes on commodities like wine and tobacco. In the centre, a yeoman accepts bribes from both sides, embodying the farcical nature of political persuasion. This scene highlights how bribery, mob violence, and national anxieties over war with France intertwined to create a volatile political environment.


William Hogarth [1697 – 1764), The Polling, 1758, Etching and engraving on paper, with hand colouring, Purchased by the Friends of Pallant House Gallery (1988)

Now we arrive at The Polling, where the public spectacle of voting is laid bare. Both parties have mobilised every possible voter, including the mentally ill, the dying, and even criminals temporarily released from jail. The Whigs carry a dying man to the polling booth, where two candidates sit with a napping beadle between them. Lawyers argue over the oath of an old soldier using his hook instead of his right hand—one declares it invalid, while the other decries the injustice to a patriot.

Beyond this farcical polling booth, Britannia herself is stranded, her coach in danger of collapse as her coachmen gamble. Hogarth’s message is clear: political corruption and mismanagement threaten the very future of England.


William Hogarth [1697 – 1764), Chairing the Members, 1758, Etching and engraving on paper, with hand-colouring, Purchased by the Friends of Pallant House Gallery (1988).

Finally, we reach Chairing the Member, where the victorious candidate is paraded through town. This chaotic procession mirrors a Venetian altarpiece, with the politician in place of the Madonna and his bearers as attendant saints. The Member, precariously balanced on his chair, mirrors a flying goose above—a parody of Roman eagles symbolising triumph.

In front of the procession, a bear leader brawls with a countryman, causing havoc. The defeated Whigs jeer from an upstairs window, and a lawyer, the sole beneficiary of the election’s chaos, drafts an indenture.


Hogarth's Legacy

So, what can we glean from Hogarth’s An Election series? Beyond the obvious humour and satire, Hogarth offers a skewering critique of political corruption and its dire consequences. Each scene, rich in detail and bursting with life, eviscerates the political system that he observed.

Today Hogarth’s name has become a synonym for scathing satire and his works have inspired countless other satirists and artists. Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and team captain on Have I Got New for You, praised Hogarth saying “Hogarth was a huge influence on cartoonists and caricaturists but he started things for everyone. He’s the great master of that tradition of English satire and we’re all trailing in his wake.”

Feed your curiosity and stay ahead in the art scene.