Taste in High Life

William Hogarth was one of the most important artists and caricaturists of the 18th century. In this domestic interior scene of a fashionable house, he has included a young African boy attired in ‘oriental’ dress. Obsession with status and fascination with passing fashions are the target of Hogarth’s satire here. For example, the couple on the right fawn ridiculously over a china cup and saucer – another ‘exotic’ import into Britain.

We do not know the identities of any of the sitters: they are generic types that would have been recognizable to Hogarth’s audience. It has been suggested, but not proved, that Hogarth modelled the African boy on Ignatius Sancho, a former slave, who, although 16 or 17 when this print was published, had been kept by three sisters in Greenwich as a child.

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection, Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund

Accession reference: National Maritime Museum, ZBA2598