Art: A Shakespeare in Oils

England had an internationally renowned theater a century before it had an artist even known by most of his countrymen. During the early 18th century, William Hogarth became Britain's first great painter, winning that distinction with an art charged more with dramatic subject matter than seductive style. He called himself an "author" rather than an artist, and works came out like serial scenes of a play. He illustrated a rake's progress in eight pictures, a harlot's downfall in six. "My picture is my stage," he wrote, and he made it roar with...

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