Art UK has updated its cookies policy. By using this website you are agreeing to the use of cookies. To find out more read our updated Use of Cookies policy and our updated Privacy policy.

An Election: 4. Chairing the Member (1754–1755)

by William Hogarth (1697–1764)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimension: H 103 x W 131.8 cm

English painter, printmaker and social critic, Hogarth, presents a deliberately chaotic representation of the notoriously corrupt Oxfordshire election of 1754. Two newly elected (and contested) members of the Tory parliament are carried aloft in the chairs by the crowds. How many different kinds of people can you spot? Are there different ages, social classes, etc.? How has Hogarth presented a feeling of chaos?

Think carefully about how he has employed composition and movement, and even farm animals! He is commenting on the current affairs of his day – how many different human vices is he trying to depict? Perhaps the rather plump goose flying overhead represents greed. Is anyone in this country town overwhelmed by the sight and the sound of this cascading riot? You may need to look carefully for this one.

Hogarth said, '... my picture was my stage'. What other elements of this work could be described as theatrical? Hogarth turned to cartoon drawing and painting to express himself in the eighteenth century – what do we do today?

Stage 1: look, describe and discuss

An Election: 4. Chairing the Member

An Election: 4. Chairing the Member 1754–1755

William Hogarth (1697–1764)

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Show your students this painting and ask them: Are they interested or not interested? Why?

Ask them to describe the groups of figures and what's going on in the background and around them.

Don't tell them too much about what the picture represents at this stage. Once you have interpreted an image, or been told what to see, it is difficult to look freshly and critically at it or appreciate each other's views.  

Tip: use the zoom feature on the image below to look closer at details. You can open a full-screen version by clicking here.



Stage 2: nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • What do you think is going on here? Who or what does the artist want us to look at first?
  • How are the identities of the different figures in the painting expressed?
  • Besides the human figures, is there anything else in the painting that helps to set the scene?
  • Do you think that this looks like a fun place to be at this time?
  • What is our viewpoint? Are we close to the action or distanced from it?

Suggested activity: ‘I spy…’ sketches

Split your students into pairs. Ask them to take turns looking at the picture and saying 'I spy something beginning with the letter...'. The other student should then do a quick sketch of what they think their partner is looking at.

After a few rounds of the game, come together again as a class and make a circle around a clear space in the room. Ask your students to take turns laying down one of their sketches on the ground, placing it in relation to the other sketches and where the figure or object is located in Chairing the Member.

Stage 3: Superpower Kit questions

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting. Use the Superpower Kit to ask questions about the work and spark a discussion.  

We'd suggest focusing on the following areas to help your students 'read' the image (click to open the relevant Superpower Kit section):

Figures – Expression and Gesture

Composition (e.g. movement, framing devices, shapes)


Ask your students to evidence their points, e.g. where exactly are they looking when they make a statement? Can everybody see what they see?

Final stage: review

Ask your students: how interested are they in the image now? Why?

At this point, you may also want to give your students some time to record and review their observations in a sketchbook on their own or in pairs.


Comparison activity

Compare Chairing the Member with Kerry James Marshall's 2017 acrylic painting Untitled (London Bridge).

In order to support the discussion, you may wish to focus on the following areas of the Superpower Kit: Figures, Composition and Colour.


Cross-curricular activities: Social Studies / Black History

Extend into a Social Studies or Black History lesson by exploring either or both of the following:


a) Elections and democracy

Chairing the Member is the final painting in a series of four exploring the election of a member of parliament in London in 1754. Use the painting as a discussion point to:

  • explore the features of an election and the work of representatives: what processes have led up to the election of the member in this final painting? You may wish to look at earlier paintings in the series such as Canvassing for Votes and The Polling.
  • explore what democracy is: is everyone happy with the result of the election in the Chairing the Member?
  • debate how we can use our voice and our rights to make change outside of elections. Do people still gather in public places to protest? Is online activism effective?


Untitled (London Bridge)

Untitled (London Bridge) 2017

Kerry James Marshall (b.1955)


b) Black history

Not all is as it seems in Untitled (London Bridge). It may surprise your students to discover that the bridge depicted was in fact built in 1967 in Lake Havasu, Arizona using granite blocks from a bridge that once spanned the River Thames – did your students spot the palm trees? 

The description on the Untitled (London Bridge) artwork page also details the life of Olaudah Equiano, who is referenced on the advertising board one of the figures is wearing. Olaudah was a slave to a Royal Navy officer in the Caribbean who eventually managed to buy his freedom and move to London where he became a prominent figure in the abolitionist movement. You can read more about Equiano on Art UK. Before exploring Equiano's story with your students, you may wish to introduce them to the history of slavery by watching this BBC Teach film focused on Harriet Tubman.

Explore more prominent figures from Black history and today's Black Lives Matter movement with KS2 / CfE Level 2 resources on BBC Teach. You can also find further resources from The Black Curriculum.

Do you know someone who would love this resource? Tell them about it...

More Art UK resources

See all