Hogarth: Place and Progress

I read a very positive review in The Guardian of the exhibition Hogarth: Place and Progress which is at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. This was the first I had heard of the exhibition, but reading that it brought together in one place all of Hogarth’s ‘series’ – paintings and engravings – it seemed too great an opportunity to miss.

I admire Hogarth’s work and the narratives that he tells within his work, his comments on the morality of his time. In a previous photography module (Photography 1 Context and Narrative) for this course I had produced a contemporary version of Hogarth engraving The Politician.

So this was an exceptional opportunity to see all of his series together in the one place.

I had not visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum before. It is in three neighbouring houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The first originally purchased by Sir John Soane as his residence and the other two purchased at a later date to house his growing art collection.

For a museum or gallery, the rooms are really quite small and the exhibition is arranged over three floors. The layout of the museum and exhibition feels somewhat cramped and some of the Hogarth images have a room to themselves whereas others are in with works from the museum’s permanent collection.  As the exhibition is spread over a number of rooms on three floors, it can sometimes feel confusing ti find the next section of the exhibition. Normally this lack of continuity might lessen the impact of an exhibition, but somehow it felt very appropriate for this one. Hogarth’s series are teeming with life, at times seemingly confused, but always with a strong narrative linking the scenes. It seemed a positive bonus to be looking at them in rather cramped rooms with less than optimal lighting and lots of other visitors, it added to the experiencing of London as Hogarth saw it.

Gin Lane; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Beer Strreet; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

It was a superb opportunity to see all of the series together, I had seen Marriage a la Mode at the National Gallery and Gin Lane and Beer Street elsewhere, but there were many others that I had only seen in books or online before.

One point of interest was in ‘The Four Steps of Cruelty’ – all 4 scenes were shown in the original engraving, but a different version of scenes 3 and 4 were exhibited in a later woodcut version. Apparently Hogarth requested this to produce plates that were larger, simpler and cheaper  in order to reach a wider audience. While the original was more refined in the lines and drawing, the woodcut gave a rougher, more aggressive feel to what were already very strong and violent images.

In most of the images that Hogarth produced , there was  a complex story of morality and vice, but the narrative of the individual series was usually quite simple – the consequences of following the path of righteousness or not.

The series were very powerful and compelling to see, especially in the unique setting of the Sir John Soane Museum.