(Above photo - Hogarth's 'Gin Lane' )
Like many of us, I'd first really been aware of William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) via his engravings. I have a bit of a fascination for the Georgian era, particularly in London. Hogarth is perhaps the foremost visual chronicler of those times, conveying all its pomp and squalor in equal measures. My favourite work - and his most well known - being of course 'Gin Lane' (alongside it's companion piece 'Beer Lane') which acts as a warning to the dangers of gin consumption including the social problems, health issues and general drunkeness the spirit can cause. In comparison the residents of 'Beer Lane' were portrayed as healthier and less lascivious than the gin addicts, an epidemic that had gripped the country at the time. I chuckle to myself as I consider hence that being a nation of drunks isn't a new thing.
(Above photo - The Rakes Progress - Orgies. Obviously a more sedate affair in the Georgian era )
Hogarth's other well known work is the 'Rakes Progress' which can be seen at Sir John Soane's Museum near Holborn - a trip well worth making. The series of eight paintings documents the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, a narrative arc that journeys from a rich and privileged upbringing to losing it all and ending up mad and in prison. On the way he enjoys orgies with prosititues, gambling, drinking and any other vice that Georgian London could throw in Rakewell's path - so it wasn't all bad. He was an early rock star. Hogarth presents to us an archetype that still exists today and hence retains a relevance. In fact the word 'Hogarthian' has entered the English dictionary (Of or relating to William Hogarth (1697–1764), English painter, printmaker, and editorial cartoonist, known for satirical political illustrations)
(Above photo - Hogarth self portrait - artist shown on a Hogarth chair )
In the excellent 'Hogarth and Europe' at Tate Britain he is positioned amongst his European contemporaries as Britain and Europe experienced similar sweeping changes to society and culture. This was an age of opportunity and change, enlightenment and innovation, but also materialism, exploitation and injustice. As is true today the gulf between the haves and the have nots was enourmous. Early travel and trade had opened up the continent to new tastes, spices, foods and flavours. Like Hogarth's engravings, much of the art has a storytelling focus showing different characters at various levels of class and society as they navigate this changing world.
To me it really opened my mind to Hogarth's talents as an oil painter with all the detailed works on display. Pre-photography, it really is a window into London, Georgian society and manners - as well as a glimpse into the interiors and how people lived. Hogarth had a great sense of humour too and a keen eye for character and story and always underpinned by his knack for satire.
(Above photo - Hogarth's 'The Distressed Poet' (1736) )
One of my favourite pieces is 'The Distressed Poet' (1736) which really plays on the struggling artist in his garrett trope very well. Perhaps the accompanying text describes it best: 'The poet gazes out of the window oblivious to the dog seizing the family supper and to the milk-maid demanding the account be paid. Among the pots on the mantlepiece sits a touch of ostentation - a redware teapot, probably Chinese. In the 1730s tea was still an expensive commodity,while porcelains from Asia became a cult luxury. To display a newly arrived Chinese dinner service; to cram a mantelpiece with porcelain figures; to serve punch from a bowl imported from the other side of the world; to preside over the etiquette of the tea ceremony – allowed the newly-rich to flaunt their taste, wealth and power. Chinese Porcelain as well as its many European imitations became highly visible endorsements of status – or, in the case of the poet, pretentious ambitions.' (Lars Tharp)
(Above photo - Canaletto - TheGrand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens (1751) )
I really enjoyed this exhibition which was really well curated with accompanying pieces by European artists. It really gave us a fascinating glimpse into those times. Other favourite works include 'The Enraged Musicians', 'Southwark Fair' and 'The March Of The Guards To Finchley'. I also really enjoyed Calaletto's 'The Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens' which is the closest we will now ever get to this lost London pleasure garden.
(Above photo - William Hogarth - 'The March Of The Guards To Finchley' (1749) )
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