My Favourite Painting: Neil Mendoza

Lord Mendoza, provost of Oriel College, chooses 'The Painter and his Pug' by William Hogarth.

Neil Mendoza on The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth

‘It’s always such a treat to see “A Rake’s Progress” in its hidden place at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, WC2. But, of all Hogarth’s paintings, this self-portrait cuts straight through.

‘Look at his stare, his dent of a scar, his Shakespeare and his dog, Trump. The trick of painting a portrait of a portrait. I wonder why he took 10 years to finish this picture.

‘It’s hard to ignore his voice and personality looking straight out of the canvas, ready to take on a discussion or an argument and then lead you around 18th-century London.’

Lord Mendoza is provost of Oriel College, Oxford, commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal at DCMS and chair of The Landmark Trust and of the Illuminated River Foundation.

John McEwen on The Painter and his Pug

Approaching 50, William Hogarth re-worked an earlier self-portrait. He always loved pugs and probably included his favourite, Trump, for the first time, who then upstages him with all that his favoured status implied. He evokes the dog’s collar Hogarth’s contemporary, Alexander Pope, gave to Frederick, Prince of Wales, inscribed: ‘I am His Majesty’s dog at Kew, pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?’

There was also a message for his fellow artists. Across the palette, an elegant line floated above a signed inscription of what it represented: ‘The LINE of BEAUTY and GRACE, W. J. 1745’. In opposition to the geometry of proportion, Hogarth advocated the beauty of this undulating ‘S’ line, key to sublime harmony, ‘admired and imitated’ by the ‘great Sculptors and painters’. Later, in 1753, he also wrote a book, The Analysis of Beauty, in which he described the reaction of artists to this first disclosure of the S: ‘No Egyptian hieroglyphic ever amused more than it did.’

The first version of this painting had advertised his artistic wares and success. There was an engraver’s tool, brushes sprouted from the thumb-hole of the palette and Hogarth wore a gentleman’s powdered wig and gold-buttoned clothes. In this 1745 version, he has a scholar’s soft hat and smock, which transforms into folds flowing out of the oval frame of the painting within the painting into the empyrean, the colour changing from earthly brown to commemorative grey. The books are by immortals: Shakespeare, Milton, Swift.

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The portrait proclaims that Hogarth is no longer a professional on the make, but deserves recognition as a fellow maestro and an Englishman, hence down-to-earth Trump, worthy of any pantheon.