During the night of 25/26 October 1764, William Hogarth (1697-1764), one of the great chroniclers of London, died at his home in Leicester Fields. For over thirty years, in his paintings, but even more so in his engravings, he captured the highs and especially the lows of life in London. Hogarth’s acute observations of the human condition were played out on the streets where he was born, lived, worked and died; they have placed an indelible stamp on the way we imagine Georgian London. Hogarth’s striking compositions and eye for the telling detail capture the vitality and suffering of the lower orders and the pretensions of the aspiring middle classes. Pugnacious and insecure, touchy yet convivial, ambitious and public spirited, William Hogarth was a complex and contradictory individual. The son of a poverty-stricken schoolteacher imprisoned for debt, he rose to become Serjeant Painter to the King, but was never fully accepted by the London art establishment.
This exhibition of fifty of the artist’s best-known London satirical prints marks the 250th anniversary of his death. Hogarth’s cautionary tales of eighteenth-century London ? ‘modern moral subjects’ as he called them – include A Harlot’s Progress, A Rake’s Progress, The Four Times of Day, Industry and Idleness and, of course, Gin Lane and Beer Street. His dynamic narratives, full of incident and dense with topical references, tell stories of contemporary London types who would have been immediately recognisable to audiences of the time.
In the two hundred and fifty years since he died, Hogarth’s commentaries on London have inspired numerous artists to look at life in London in their own time. Though neither a cartoonist nor strictly a caricaturist, his satires remain a touchstone for satirists from David Low and Ralph Steadman to Steve Bell and Martin Rowson. This exhibition invites the public to look more closely at the original pictures and discover a London which is sometimes horrifying, but always fascinating.
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