Burke was wrong. In February 1792, his impassioned obituary for Joshua Reynolds called the painter “the first Englishman who added the praise of the elegant arts to the other glories of his country.” John Constable disagreed.

“Hogarth was born twenty-six years before Sir Joshua,” Constable argued in June 1836 in a lecture at the Royal Institution, “and had published his engravings of A Harlot’s Progress when Reynolds was but eleven years’ old.”

Constable wondered if Burke had been misled by Horace Walpole. In Anecdotes of English Painting (1771), Walpole had assessed his late friend Hogarth as “a great and original genius,” but more “a writer of comedy with a pencil” tha ...