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There are a number of ways in which William Hogarth uses crowds in his works. Often, they are a means of making general points about contemporary society, usually with a critical edge. They are frequently used to intensify feelings of chaos, disorder and vice, creating the impression of a very unstable world. They are used in a number of different genres, ranging from Hogarth's social critiques to his political satires.

His gatherings are a collage of individuals, in which a variety of both real-life figures and fictional characters are juxtaposed with each other, allowing the artist to draw contrasts between them. Although usually very tightly packed, creating a sense of confinement, the crowds contain a huge amount of detail, meaning that they never form a featureless backdrop to the main characters. In most of Hogarth's works, a large gathering of people is likely to be violent and drunken, or at best, fixated on material pleasure, seldom appearing in a wholly positive light.

The four images in this gallery share a number of similarities. Most obviously, in each one, the crowd is the main focus of the work. Even in the two plates from the Industry and Idleness series, the two apprentices, the central characters, have become subsumed by the crowds that surround them. As in The Cockpit, the focus of all the images is on the spectators who have turned up to watch, rather than the event they have come to see. They are all representative of the way in which Hogarth uses crowds as a means of commenting on contemporary society, and to exemplify the themes of the works in which they appear.

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Industry and Idleness (Plate 11)
Industry and Idleness (Plate 12)
March of the Guards
The Cock Pit
All images © Trustees of the British Museum

1. William Hogarth, Industry and Idleness, Plate XI ("The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn "), engraving (1747)
2.William Hogarth, Industry and Idleness, Plate XII ("The Industrious 'Prentice Lord-Mayor of London"),engraving (1747)
3.Luke Sullivan after William Hogarth, The March of the Guards to Finchley, engraving (1750)
4.William Hogarth, The Cockpit, engraving (1759)