An image of The first stage of cruelty

William Hogarth

(England 10 Nov 1697 – 25 or 26 October 1764)

The first stage of cruelty, from the series The four stages of cruelty

Not on display
Further information

Hogarth designed this set of prints with a reforming purpose in mind. In his 'Autobiographical notes' he describes his intention: "'The four stages of cruelty' were done in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than anything what ever, the very describing of which gives pain." The series relates the career of Tom Nero, a child of the slums, who begins by torturing dogs, progresses to beating horses in the street then, as a grown up, murders his pregnant lover, Ann Gill. Finally, Nero is dissected in an anatomy theatre as an executed criminal, a noose still around his neck.

'First stage of cruelty' shows a street in London with young boys inflicting various forms of cruelty upon animals; in the centre, a boy (Tom Nero), identifiable by the badge on his shoulder as a pupil of St. Giles's Parish School, thrusts an arrow into a dog's anus. Another youth, better dressed, offers Nero a tart as an incentive to stop his abusive behaviour.

etching and engraving
37.8 x 31.9 cm plate mark; 50.4 x 43.9 cm frame
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

European Art Collection Benefactors' Fund 2015
Accession number
Laurence W Hodson, England
Larkhall Fine Art Ltd, 04 Apr 2013, Bath/Sommerset/England, purchased at Laurence W Hodson sale, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury, London, 4 April 2013, lot 326