Hogarth: Place and Progress review
Time Out says
With impeccable timing, Sir John Soane’s Museum has gathered together for the first time all of William Hogarth’s series, including ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’. The timing is great because the highlight here is ‘Humours of an Election’ (1754), in which a bogus general election goes from bad to worse, amid corruption, violence and national division, and in which literally every other character looks like Boris Johnson, including some of the animals.
Hogarth liked series of works: they allowed him to do narrative while indulging his more painterly instincts, and they were easily reproducible as engravings that could be sold for MONEY. Money – the lack of it, the influence of it and the abuse of it – features a lot in his work. The ‘Rake’ inherits, squanders the lot, goes mad. The couple in ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’ (1743) hook up in a paid-for social contract and both die. Oh yeah, there’s a lot of death, too. People are stabbed, disembowelled, hanged, die of the pox and have strokes after heavy lunches. A man beats a lamb to death in the street. Coaches crash and people are hit by bricks. Hogarth’s world is one of extremes, but that was the world where he lived and worked. One of the most fascinating things about this show is the way these series track their characters across London: from the chic West End to sleazy Covent Garden to the Barbican’s slums. This is not a fantasy – the ‘progress’ is literal, catastrophic and set amid recognisable landmarks.
It’s not all grotesque misery. As Hogarth’s style grows more expansive, his paintings are full of beauty. It’s mainly natural – skies, rivers, woods – as if to remind us that it’s humans who fuck up everything, and each other. Another topical twenty-first-century box ticked.
One small regret: these works repay close attention, and Soane’s domestic set-up – though totally delightful – is not gallery-scaled. These are small-ish rooms, so be prepared to squeeze in with your horrible fellow humans. It’s what Hogarth would have wanted! (Soane probably not.) Go and see it.