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William Hogarth, The Shrimp Girl

Key facts
Full title The Shrimp Girl
Artist William Hogarth
Artist dates 1697 - 1764
Date made about 1740-5
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 63.5 × 52.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1884
Inventory number NG1162
Location Room 35
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Shrimp Girl
William Hogarth

Hogarth certainly painted this sketch from life, and although he may never have known the girl’s name, this is definitely a portrait of an individual. For at least a century before and after Hogarth painted The Shrimp Girl, most of the travelling sellers of shellfish in London were women, usually the daughters or wives of fishmongers in Billingsgate Fish Market.

Hogarth sketched a half-pint measure in the basket balanced on his shrimp girl’s head. A few darker shells suggest that she also sells mussels, and perhaps cockles, as well as shrimps. She wears a dark sou'wester, a hat traditionally worn by fisherman, and a cloak, probably of oilskin, but nothing can dim the sense of life and character she radiates.

The Shrimp Girl appears unique among Hogarth’s single-figure oil sketches in being painted from life, spontaneously and for its own sake. The speed with which it was painted adds to its sense of truth and liveliness.

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