Accelerating the Modern World

The 130-year history of the car may be comparatively short to other inventions, however, it has dramatically influenced and changed the world. Bringing together fifteen cars of the last century or so, the Victoria and Albert Museum tells the story of the design and impact of the car from the very first to a concept flying car of the near future. Whilst some of the cars are recognisable, it is the first time many of them have been on display in the United Kingdom, making the exhibition Cars: Accelerating the Modern World a must-see for car enthusiasts.

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Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3

The world’s first practical car is generally considered to be the Patent-Motorwagen created in 1886 by Karl Benz (1844-1929). The first version was designed shortly after Benz successfully developed a petrol-powered two-stroked piston engine in 1873. The engine was mounted at the rear of a three-wheeled automobile that was steered by way of a rack and pinion mechanism. The body of the vehicle was made from steel tubing with wooden panels and spoked wheels. Later versions allowed room for passengers, however, it never went very fast, approximately 10 miles per hour at the most.

To publicise the new invention, Benz’s wife Bertha (1849-1944), whose dowry financed the enterprise, took the Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 for its first cross-country drive, covering around 60 miles. Although it was slow, Bertha proved its practicalness, however, there were a few issues. On more than one occasion, Bertha had to clean the carburettor with her hat pin and the brakes quickly wore down. Nonetheless, the seed was sown and many were already dreaming of faster cars and the potential idea of car racing.

By 1905, cars were already able to reach speeds of 100 mph and races were being held throughout the world to find the fastest drivers. Many of the early speed races took place on the sandy beaches of Florida between Ormond and Daytona Beach. As a result, the area has been nicknamed “the birthplace of speed”. One of the first drivers to go over 100 mph was Arthur MacDonald who reached 104.65 mph in a Napier 6 on 24th January 1905, winning him the Thomas Trophy.

In Europe, drivers competed for the Gordon Bennett Cup for automobile racing established by James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841-1918), the publisher of the New York Herald. The phrase “Gordon Bennett”, which signifies exasperation or shock derives from the same man. The trophy was awarded in 1900 until 1905 when the French Grand Prix was established. The first Grand Prix was held in 1906 and today’s Formula One World Championships is a direct descendent.

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The Irving-Napier Golden Arrow

Back at Daytona Beach, races were still being held on the sand including a race in March 1929 that saw the world land-speed record broken at 231.45 mph. Known as the Golden Arrow, the Irving-Napier car was designed by the British automobile engineer John Samuel Irving (1880-1953) in an attempt to take back the speed record from the Americans, which it achieved by 24 mph.

The Golden Arrow, which was driven by Major Henry Segrave (1896-1930), was designed to go much faster with a streamlined body and pointed nose. The record was achieved on the very first drive, however, Segrave wanted to drive again in the belief it could go much faster. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to prove its potential because the beach was closed later that day after a fatal crash of an American driver. Segrave was killed the following year whilst attempting to set a water speed record and the Golden Arrow, which now lives at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, was never driven again.

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Delahaye 145

Despite having invented the Grand Prix, the French were dismayed that the majority of the winners drove German cars such as Mercedes-Benz. Determined to win the title, the French government encouraged local manufacturers to build a car fast enough to beat their German rivals at the Grand Prix. With an incentive of a million franc prize, Delahaye automobile constructed the Type 145, which was painted blue with a red and white victory stripe. At the 1938 Grand Prix in Pau, Southwest France, the French racing driver René Dreyfus (1905-93) drove the Delahaye Type 145 to victory.

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Tatra 77

As the races got more competitive, car manufacturers began to realise the vehicles designed according to the principles of streamlining performed better than those that were not. Hungarian-born Paul Jarau (1889-1974) was one of the designers in the 1920s who argued streamlining would enhance the performance of automobiles. To prove his point, Jaray collaborated with the Czech company Tatra to design the Tatra 77 (T77).

With the assistance of the Austrian automobile designer Hans Ledwinka (1878-1967), Jaray produced the first aerodynamic car. Their main aim was to reduce air drag, which they achieved by reducing the height of the body and tapering the back into a fin shape. Although the engine was slightly smaller than previous cars, it amazed spectators when it managed to easily reach speeds of 90 mph. Jaray’s success led him to work with many car manufacturers, including, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Ford.

Streamlining became popular with other products and not only vehicles. The 1920s and 1930s saw a new visual culture develop, which involved creating aesthetically sleek designs to replace the bulkier designs of the past. Fashion was particularly hit by this new wave and ladies wear became tight-fitting and elegant. Clothing was not the only industry to adopt the streamlined look, telephones, chairs, clocks and so forth all became slimmer and more compact.

With streamlining, cars could travel faster than ever before. Even before this was put into practice, the UK government feared for public safety and limited driving to 20 mph on all public roads as early as 1903. This was later raised to 30 mph but accidents on the roads were steadily increasing. Nonetheless, people still wanted to experience the thrill of speed and companies continued to develop fast cars.

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Eileen May (‘Jill’) Thomas (née Fountain, formerly Jill Scott) by Madame Yevonde

To allow drivers the opportunity to drive at speed, the British entrepreneur Hugh Fortescue Locke King (1848-1926) opened and financed Brooklands, the world’s first purpose-built private racetrack for cars, in Weybridge, Surrey in 1907. Up until the Second World War, both men and women competed to reach new speeds. Although women were not allowed to enter formal competitions, they demanded the rights to drive, arguing that driving was about skill, not strength. Amongst these women was Jill Scott Thomas (1902-74) who was the first female to drive around Brooklands at the average speed of 120 mph. She “…drove like a man handling big fast cars with great verve and enthusiasm in days when women were not supposed to do these things. Yet she was essentially feminine…” (SCH Davis, Atalanta -Women as Racing Drivers)

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Ford Mustang Fastback

By the 1950s, speed was becoming a problem on public roads, which was not helped by the new breed of popular automobile, the “muscle car”. The Ford Mustang Fastback was one of the relatively affordable “muscle cars” with a powerful engine that allowed people who could not previously afford fast cars the opportunity to experience the speed of luxury sports cars. Despite being popular, people criticised these cars, claiming they encouraged reckless driving, which would, in turn, cause more road fatalities.

To tackle car-related deaths, car companies started developing safety innovations, which are now legal requirements. The German company Bosch introduced electrical systems, such as headlights and horns. The Swedish company Volvo pioneered seatbelts, which had a major impact on driver and passenger safety. As time went on, new technologies were added to cars, allowing the vehicle the ability to control some of the driving, taking some of the responsibility away from the driver.

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Ford Model T

Although the Ford Mustang is famous for its speed, it was a long time before Ford jumped on the streamline design bandwagon. From 1908 to 1927, the Ford Motor Company’s best selling car was the Model T, which is also considered to be the world’s first affordable automobile. It was also the first mass-produced car, which is what made it so much cheaper than other car models.

“I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
– Henry Ford

Henry Ford (1863-1947) was an American industrialist who, not only founded the Ford Motor Company but also developed the assembly line technique of mass production, which changed the world. Ford was inspired by meatpacking plants in the Midwest, which gradually butchered carcasses by passing them from one team to the next, each with a different job. As a result, the main job was broken down into small tasks with one person in charge of a particular section. By incorporating this idea into his factories, Ford’s staff were able to work simultaneously on car parts that eventually got put together at the final stage of the assembly line. Although each person’s job was rather repetitive, it proved to speed up production, which allowed the company to sell the cars at a lower price.

The annual output of the Model T continued to rise and by the time it was discontinued in 1927, Ford had sold over 15 million around the world. At the time, 55% of drivers owned a Ford Model T, which is a record that has never been beaten.

Mass production caught on in other industries and soon it was not just cars that were produced through an assembly line. Everything from furniture to architecture adopted “Fordism”, which increased output and created more jobs – that is until robots were invented. By working long hours on repetitive tasks, workers’ health began to deteriorate, particularly when strenuous tasks were involved. To alleviate the problem, robots were installed to perform more demanding tasks. Unfortunately, this resulted in a loss of jobs and, in the 21st century, workers are still struggling to negotiate a way in which robots and humans can effectively collaborate.

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Hispano-Suiza Type HB6 ‘Skiff Torpedo’, Hispano-Suiza (chassis)

Although the Model T allowed people of all classes to own a car, the elite prefered to stand out in the motoring world. They requested luxury, customised cars, such as the “Skiff Torpedo” designed by the Spanish company Hispano-Suiza. Over 2000 luxury cars were produced by the company, each made bespoke for every rich customer. On display at the V&A is the “Skiff Torpedo” bought by the benefactor Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe (1892-1937) at the Paris Auto Salon in 1919. The car was very expensive but showed the world Madame de la Meurthe was a wealthy woman. Other people who ordered a Hispano-Suiza included Constantine I of Greece (1868-1923).

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Victoire, radiator mascot

Another way to demonstrate your wealth was to have a mascot on your car bonnet. Some makes of car still have these today, however, between 1920 and 1931, the French designer René Lalique (1860-1945) produced a series of mascots made from glass. Costing hundreds of pounds each, these glass creations were designed to be screwed into the radiator cap and could even be illuminated by an electric light if desired. Although these mascots were much admired, it was not long before even the most careful of drivers realised how dangerous life on the road was for the glass sculptures.

Bespoke cars could be produced in any colour the client desired, however, the customers of the Ford Model T could “have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” This was because the black paint was much more economical than other colours. It dried quickly, which was important in assembly line manufacturing.

The American company General Motors, which was founded in 1908 by William C. Durant (1861-1947), looked for ways to easily and cheaply change the colour of a car. Collaborating with the chemical company DuPont, they created “Duco”, a quick-drying paint suitable for cars that could be produced in many different colours.

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LaSalle Roadster

With their new colour palette, General Motors produced the LaSalle Roadster, which was styled to look like a luxury car but was much more affordable. The V&A displays just one of the many colours in which the car was mass-produced.

Other companies began to produce their cars in multiple colours, allowing customers to choose their preference rather than make do with what was available. In 1955, Chrysler launched a car specifically made for women, made, ironically, by men. With a pink exterior and interior, the Dodge La Femme had a simpler dashboard and came with a range of accessories, including a rain hat, coat, umbrella, handbag (pink, of course), cigarette case, mirror and make-up. Today, a female-targeted car is an extremely sexist idea and it was not until the late 1950s that women were first introduced to design teams.

The “Damsels of Design”, as they were called, were hired by General Motors to help design cars that would be attractive to women. Unfortunately, this largely involved gimmicky things and many women got frustrated and left the industry.

With so many colour ranges available, the chairman of General Motors, Alfred Sloan (1875-1966) proposed the policy of “annual model renewal”. Based on the fashion industry, which changed its lines every season, Sloan believed they could sell more cars if they continuously updated the previous year’s model. The inner engineering stayed the same, but the appearance changed regularly, tempting people to buy the latest design. Colour ranges and annual updates were introduced to other industries as well, which is why there seem to be several new smartphones or computers every year.

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On the other hand, Volkswagen decided not to produce new designs each year and boasted of their VW Beetle’s iconic unchanging appearance. By advertising themselves in a self-deprecating way, mocking the annual model cycle, Volkswagen grew in popularity and saw an increase in sales.

The VW Beetle came about after the Second World War. In 1937, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who was a great admirer of Fordism, hired Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951), the founder of the Porsche car company, to design a “car for the people”, i.e. Volkswagen. Hitler believed everyone in Germany should have access to a car and used this idea as propaganda for the Nazi Party. Whilst production began in 1938, it had to be temporarily halted due to the war during which time Porsche’s talents were used on the production of tanks and weapons. It was only after the British reopened the VW plant that the VW Beetle became widely available.

By the end of the war, it was clear that the world’s petrol resources were not inexhaustible. Something that was once abundant was showing signs of running out and society was beginning to face up to the potential of a future without oil. The way engines were powered needed to change and experiments began with lithium batteries and electricity. Unfortunately, the search for sustainable fuel continues today.

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Ford Nucleon Concept

Before anyone realised the dangers of nuclear waste, Ford put forward a concept for a car that could be powered by a small nuclear reactor. Rather than needing to refuel, the car would be recharged after 5000 miles. The biggest problem, however, was no one had worked out how to make nuclear fission more compact to fit into a small engine, therefore, the car was never built.

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Messerschmitt, KR200 Cabin Scooter Bubble Top

Another attempt at an eco-friendly car was the Messerschmitt KR200, which was produced after the 1956 Suez Crisis that saw a steep rise in oil prices. With a smaller engine, the “Bubble car” as it was nicknamed needed less fuel to run. With two front wheels and one rear wheel, less power was needed than if it had four wheels like most other cars. Unfortunately, only two people could fit in the car and the passenger had to sit behind the driver, therefore, it was not practical for families.

In the 130 years that cars have been around, they have reshaped society and geography. Initially, the few paved roads were unsuitable for driving and many more were needed to avoid congestion. Between 1920 and 2020, motorways have drastically altered the landscape of countries across the world. Green fields have been converted or divided by strips of tarmac and roads have eaten their way through mountain ranges and under bodies of water.

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Tipsy

Whilst some people grieve for the loss of nature, other cultures almost worship cars. Racing drivers are an obvious example and car shows are another. In Britain, people meet up to show off their cars, particularly old-fashioned ones that are still in peak conditions. The same type of thing is done on other continents, for example, the Latino communities in LA. The V&A displays an example of a custom paint job on a 1962 Chevrolet Impala Convertible. Although it is rarely used on the road, Tomas Vazquez, a member of the Imperials, one of the biggest lowrider car clubs in the world, gave the car new life when he repainted it and added creative decorations in memory of Imperial members who have passed away. As a video in the exhibition shows, Vazquez takes great care and pride in the car, which he named Tipsy, and takes her to numerous car shows.

Since cars are updated annually, there is the constant question of “what next?” There are more and more cars on the roads each year and the petrol issue is becoming a greater problem every day. Buildings and farmlands are destroyed to make room for more roads to try to accommodate the number of vehicles. Engineers are trying to find a new method of powering cars, for instance, electricity, but even that has its flaws. Another popular idea is the future of flying cars.

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Firebird 1 Concept Car

The idea of a flying car is not a new one. The first vehicle in the V&A exhibition is the General Motor’s Firebird 1 concept car from the 1950s. Inspired by jet fighter planes, the car was designed like a plane with a cockpit and gas turbine engines that promised a speed of 200 mph. As it was only a concept, the logistics had not been fully worked out and the car never flew. Today, however, a flying car is much closer to reality than it was 60 years ago.

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Pop.Up Next

The exhibition closes with a vision of the future. At least four ideas are being contemplated for the future of the car: electric engines, driverless abilities, on-demand services and flying cars. The Pop.Up Next concept car combines all four ideas in one design. The car, powered by electricity, has the ability to drive on roads. A computer inside would be able to connect to people’s smartphones in order to be booked for a ride and be instructed upon the destination – no doubt it would have the latest voice recognition software. Finally, when attached to a strong propeller-like device, the car would supposedly fly.

After being shown cars of the past, visitors are left with this vision of the future. How will the car develop over the next decade, the next century and even further into the future? We wait and see.

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is open until Sunday 19th April 2020. Tickets are £18 and under 11’s go free when accompanied by a paying adult.

Troy: Myth and Reality

Until 8th March, the British Museum is celebrating the legend of Troy, which has endured for over 3000 years. With ancient artefacts and more recent artworks, the museum tells the story of the Trojan War from its beginning to its end, followed by the fateful journey home of one of the Greek heroes. Whilst this story may be purely mythical, the British Museum also explores the true existence of Troy, which was discovered during the 19th century.

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Bust of Homer

Many people know some of the stories surrounding the Trojan War, which have been told for over 3000 years. Initially spread by word of mouth, it is generally believed the story was put together by the Greek poet Homer as early as the 8th century BC. There are some arguments that Homer never existed and the stories were compiled by several authors, however, the final result had been published under Homer’s name in two volumes, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Written in a dactylic hexameter – a form of poetry – the Iliad spans approximately fifty-one days of the ten-year Trojan War on the coast of Anatolia, now known as northwestern Turkey. The city of Troy was under siege by a coalition of Greek states as revenge for the abduction of Helen of Sparta.

The war began shortly after the wedding of the sea-goddess Thetis and Peleus, the king of Thessaly. All the Greek gods and goddesses were invited to the ceremony except for Eris, the goddess of discord. Angry at being left out, Eris turned up unannounced and threw a golden apple into the crowd of party-goers. The apple bore the inscription “to the most beautiful” and three goddesses: Aphrodite, Athena and Hera, believed it was intended for them.

The goddesses appealed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to decide who was the most beautiful. Reluctant to get involved, Zeus instructed Paris, the visiting Trojan prince, to make the decision. Paris’ judgement was by no means fair because, before he could make a decision, Aphrodite the goddess of love, promised Paris the love of the most beautiful woman on earth if he chose her as the winner of the competition. Naturally, Paris chose Aphrodite.

After the wedding, Paris visited the Greek state of Sparta where he met Helen, the woman Aphrodite promised him. Unfortunately, Helen was already married to King Menelaus, so when Paris returned to Troy with Helen, Menelaus was determined to get his wife back. Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae called together a huge fleet of Greek heroes to sail across the Aegean Sea in support of his brother Menelaus. Thus, the Trojan War began.

The Iliad begins in the middle of the plot after the Greeks have been attempting to breach the strong walls of the city of Troy for nine years. Although they had not managed to enter the main city, the Greeks had raided surrounding towns belonging to Troy and taken many inhabitants as prisoners. Amongst these prisoners was a young woman named Briseis who was given as a prize of honour to the Greek Hero Achilles, son of Thetis.

King Agamemnon’s prisoner was Chryseis, the daughter of a Trojan priest of Apollo. The Trojan’s offered money in return for the girl, however, Agamemnon refused. So, the priest prayed to Apollo who sent a plague over the Greek army until they returned Chryseis to her father. In retaliation, Agamemnon took Briseis from Achilles, causing the Greek hero to, quite simply, have a huge sulk.

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The Death of Patroclus

Furious with Agamemnon, Achilles refused to fight in the war and asked his mother, Thetis, to make the Greeks realise how much they needed Achilles on their side. In the fighting that followed, the Trojans began to get the upper hand. In desperation, Achilles’ friend and potential lover Patroclus entered the battle disguised as Achilles in an attempt to raise the morale of the Greek soldiers. It worked; both the Greeks and the Trojans believed Patroclus was Achilles, however, this put him in mortal danger when he was targetted by the Trojan prince Hector.

When Achilles heard that Hector had killed Patroclus, he fell into a state of grief-stricken rage. Despite knowing the prophecy that stated if Hector died, Achilles would soon follow, the Greek hero returned to the battle site clad in new armour forged by the god Hephaestus. In a blind rage, Achilles killed Hector, tied the corpse to the back of a chariot, and proceeded to desecrate the body by dragging it around the battlefield for several days. Taking pity on Hector’s family, the gods protected Hector’s body from damage until Achilles could be persuaded to hand the corpse over to King Priam for a traditional Trojan funeral.

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Achilles killing the Amazons

This is where the Iliad finished, however, the war was by no means over. Troy called upon its allies for support, but the Amazons and Ethiopians were no match for Achilles’ strength. Whilst Achilles continued to fight, he knew as a result of Hector’s death, he was destined to die soon.

When Achilles was a baby, his mother dipped him into the waters of the River Styx to make him invulnerable to injury. Unfortunately, the ankle from which she dangled him did not enter the water, therefore, Achilles was vulnerable in this area. It was in this precise spot that an arrow shot by Paris hit Achilles, fatally wounding the Greek Hero. Despite their best warrior dead, the Greeks continued to fight.

The Greeks won the war thanks to an ingenious invention by Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. He encouraged the Greek army to build an enormous wooden horse, which they placed outside the walls of Troy as a decoy peace offering. Believing the Greeks had given up the fight, the Trojan’s accepted the gift and brought it into the city, unaware that it housed some of the best Greek fighters. Once through the walls, the Greeks crept out of the horse and attacked the city from within, eventually destroying Troy and killing King Priam and Hector’s son, Astyanax. Only one member of the royal family survived, Aeneas, the son of King Priam’s cousin, whose survival story is told in the Aeneid by Publius Vergilius Maro (Virgil).

Troy fell, the war ended and Helen was reunited with her husband, however, this was not the end of the story for the Greeks. The gods were angry at the sacrilegious atrocities committed by the Greeks during the war and decided to teach them a lesson by making their journey home rather difficult. No one’s journey was as bad as Odysseus whose ten-year attempt to return home is recorded in Homer’s Odyssey.

“Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me about how he wandered and was lost
when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy …”
Odyssey, Homer, 700 AD

Initially, twelve ships, including one belonging to Odysseus, were driven off course by the storms caused by the angry gods. As a result, Odysseus and his men sheltered in the land of the Lotus-Eaters. These were a race of people whose primary food source was the lotus fruits, which had a narcotic effect on foreigners. Naturally, Odysseus’ men accepted food and hospitality from the peaceful natives and forgot that they were on their way home from Troy. It was only through physical force that Odysseus managed to get his men back onto the ships.

Since it was impossible to bring an endless supply of food on a ship, Odysseus soon had to make another stop. On an uninhabited island – or so they thought, Odysseus and his men discovered a cave full of meat and cheese. Before they could return to the ship, the cave’s owner, a cyclops named Polyphemus, arrived and sealed the entrance to the cave. Trapped inside, Odysseus had to think quickly and introduced himself to the cyclops as Nobody. Odysseus persuaded Polyphemus to drink excessive amounts of wine until the cyclops fell asleep. Taking the opportunity, Odysseus used a wooden stake to blind the one-eyed creature, who woke up with a shout. Other cyclopes arrived on the scene to find out what the fuss was about but soon went away when Polyphemus told them “Nobody attacked me.”

Hiding under the underbellies of Polyphemus’ sheep, Odysseus and his men escaped the cave when the cyclops unsealed the entrance in the morning. They could easily have sailed away and gone straight home, however, Odysseus foolishly boasted about defeating the cyclops, revealing his name in the process. Polyphemus prayed to his father, Poseidon the god of the sea, to curse Odysseus to wander the seas for ten years, losing all his men in the process.

Odysseus’ next stop was the island of Aeolia where Aeolus, the keeper of the winds resided. He gave Odysseus a leather bag containing all the winds except for the one that would blow their boat home. With instructions not to open the bag, Odysseus and his men set off towards Ithaca, however, whilst Odysseus was asleep, his men fell to temptation and opened the bag, releasing all the winds. As a result, the boat was blown off course, taking them even further away from home.

Following this, Odysseus and his men met with several disasters. The first occurred on the Laestrygonians’ Island where cannibalistic giants feasted on the majority of the men. The survivors sailed on to the island of Aeaea, where a witch-goddess Circe, daughter of the sun-god Helios turned all but Odysseus into pigs. Although Odysseus forced Circe to return his men to human form, her charm caused him to remain on the island for an entire year.

Odysseus managed to avoid disaster as they passed the land of the Sirens. The Sirens were dangerous creatures who lured sailors to their deaths with their beautiful songs. Odysseus instructed his men to plug their ears, however, he wished to hear the music. Odysseus tied himself to a post so that he could not be tempted to follow the sounds of the Sirens’ voices. Whilst no incident occurred with the Sirens, there was danger just around the corner. The ship had to pass between two creatures: Scylla, a six-headed monster, and Charybdis, a whirlpool. Although they successfully avoided Charybdis, Scylla managed to snatch up six men.

The next island Odysseus and his remaining men visited was Thrinacia. Due to a storm, they were unable to leave the island for several days, causing them to use up all their provisions. Hungry, Odysseus prayed to the gods, however, his desperate starving men hunted down some cattle to feast upon. These cattle, however, turned out to be the sacred cattle of Helios, the god of the sun. As a punishment, the next time Odysseus and his men took to the sea, the gods caused a shipwreck, which only Odysseus survived.

With no means of getting home, Odysseus found himself washed up on the island of Ogygia, where he was kept captive by the nymph Calypso. After seven years of homesickness, Zeus compelled Calypso to release Odysseus so he could eventually return home.

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Penelope mournfully waiting for her long-absent husband

For ten years, Odysseus’ wife Penelope waited patiently for her husband’s return. Believing him to be dead, many suitors tried to worm their way into the household. Penelope fended them off by saying she would only marry one of them after she had finished her weaving. Each day, she sat weaving and every night she undid the progress she had made, thus the work would never be finished.

On returning home, Odysseus found his home had been taken over by 108 young men. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus killed the leader of the suitors and revealed himself to his wife. Finally, the Trojan War got its happy ending.

It is not certain whether there ever was a Trojan War and Odysseus’ journey home seems even less probable. For hundreds of years, people assumed it was a myth, a story for entertainment purposes. Nonetheless, this did not stop people from trying to locate the city of Troy. Believed to be situated in Anatolia – northwest modern-day Turkey – pilgrims visited the area, believing they were travelling the paths of their ancient heroes.

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Heinrich Schliemann by Sidney Hodges

An English expatriate, Frank Calvert (1828-1908) believed he had located the site of Troy on a mound at Hisarlik, the remains of an ancient city near Çanakkale in Turkey. Seven years later, when Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), a German pioneer of archaeology, arrived, Calvert quickly persuaded him to investigate the area. What they discovered was the remains of the mythical city of Troy. Although Calvert helped with the excavation, it was Schliemann who took the accolades.

Between 1870 and 1890, Schliemann’s excavations revealed more and more about the real city of Troy. It is estimated people first settled in the area around 3000 BC during the Early Bronze Age. For around four thousand years, people lived in Troy until it was abandoned in 600 AD. Schliemann’s findings and those of archaeology teams that followed him record how people lived during this lengthy period.

Life in Troy has been categorised into nine phases with Troy I being the earliest and Troy IX the last. Troy I was only a small village but by the time Troy II was established between 2500 and 2300 BC, the city had strong walls encircling a citadel, although still rather small. Being on the Dardanelles strait, Troy would have been in prime position for trading, which may explain its gradually increasing size.

By the Late Bronze Age (1750–1180 BC) Troy had a larger citadel with stronger, sloping walls, some of which can still be seen today. As well as access to the trade route, surrounding Troy was agricultural land, which was used to keep animals, particularly sheep and grow crops. Evidence of horses in the area have also been unearthed, which links to the Trojan prince Hector in the Iliad, who was described as a horse-tamer.

Troy was destroyed at the end of the Bronze Age (1180 BC), which some have attributed to the Trojan War. Other cities in the Mediterranean, however, were also destroyed for reasons unknown, which puts the specific Trojan War into question. Homer did not live, if he ever existed, until the 8th or 7th century BC, by which time Troy had been rebuilt and renamed Ilion, which is the name Homer uses in the Iliad.

Troy, or Ilion, flourished once more. Although it was not as important as other cities in the ancient world, it was a populous city for hundreds of years. It seems strange that a large city could ever be “lost”, however, by the 6th century AD, the population had dwindled and unused buildings crumbled away. Any evidence of Troy’s existence was eventually covered by debris until all that remained was the hill-shaped mound now known as Hisarlik.

Schliemann was convinced Troy II was the ancient Troy or Ilion mentioned by Homer and, therefore, the site of the Trojan War. Archaeologists today, who are still excavating the area, date Troy II to the Early Bronze Age, which is too early for the war, nor does it contain any physical evidence of combat.

Although the mythical Troy has yet to be proven or disproven, life in the city has been discovered and documented, beginning with the 100 or so items Schliemann brought to England for an exhibition at London’s South Kensington Museum (V&A) in 1877. Amongst the items were “face pots” that appeared to have eyes and may have, as Schliemann believed, been idols of the goddess Athena. Many other pots were also in the collection, some with three “legs” and one big enough to store enough grain to feed a small family for a year.

Rather than ending the exhibition here with the half-successful search for the site of the Trojan War, the British Museum returned to the myths with a selection of artworks that explore how artists have interpreted the stories over the past millennium. Authors have also used the Trojan myths as the basis of their stories, for instance, William Shakespeare‘s Troilus and Cressida and Edward Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590): “For noble Britons sprang/from Trojans bold,/And Troynovant was built/of old Troy’s ashes cold.”

Even though artists have chosen to depict the same scenes, for instance, the sirens, their outcomes are very different. Take, for example, African-American artist Romare Bearden’s (1911-88) The Siren’s Song, which shows Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship in the background. In the foreground, the sirens are dancing in human form, attempting to lure Odysseus to his death. In Greek mythology, sirens were represented as part human and part bird, however, Bearden portrayed them as fully human.

Herbert Draper (1863-1920) is another artist who altered the appearance of the sirens. In Ulysses and the Sirens – Ulysses being the Roman name for Odysseus – Odysseus is once again tied to the mast, however, sirens in the form of mermaids are attempting to climb onto the ship. Mermaids are half-human, half-fish and may have been inspired by the Greek sirens. In folklore, mermaids also lure sailors to their deaths.

Whilst heroes tend to be portrayed during their prime, a few artworks at the British Museum reveal the vulnerable side of the great men. Hector was one of Troy’s best fighters and it was a great loss when he was killed in battle by Achilles. British artist of Huguenot descent Briton Rivière (1840-1920) painted Hector lying dead, face-down in the sand. As the Iliad tells us, Achilles dragged Hector’s body around the battlefield for several days, however, the gods protected the corpse from damage. In Rivière’s painting, Hector’s muscular body looks as pure as it would had he been alive.

Achilles heel is usually regarded as his only vulnerability, however, his emotions also get the better of him. Firstly, his anger causes him to stubbornly refuse to fight but when Patroclus is killed, his anger turns to grief followed by rage, which causes him to join the battle and go after Hector. The Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) produced a quick sketch of Achilles lamenting the death of his best friend. Achilles collapses over the body of Patroclus, which is an action that many would deem unmanly. Fuseli, on the other hand, admired Achilles and the other Greek heroes for their authentic emotions.

Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, was a popular topic for artists. Since no one knows what Helen looked like, artists have portrayed their own perceptions of beauty. William Morris (1834-96) drew Helen as the Flamma Troiae (Flame of Troy) with long, flowing blonde hair. Although she supposedly ignites passion in men, she demurely looks down as though innocent of the effects of her beauty.

Evelyn De Morgan’s (1855-1919) version of Helen, however, is much more enticing. Aware of her beauty, golden-haired Helen looks into a hand mirror, absorbed with her own appearance. The contours of her dress reveal her slender legs and her bare arms are something women of the past would not have dreamed of showing in public.

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Helen’s Tears – Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), on the other hand, took a different approach to Helen. Rather than focus on her beauty, Burne-Jones thought about how the war would have affected her. In his tiny watercolour, Burne-Jones shows Helen consumed by guilt about the destruction of Troy. Wearing dark clothing, she holds her hands to her face whilst Troy burns around her. Although the war was not her fault, she is taking the blame for the outcome, for it is for her that the Greeks came to destroy the city. The crown atop her head indicates Helen’s importance in the story. She is not just a beautiful woman, she is a queen. Paris may have taken Helen because she was the most beautiful woman in the world but the Greeks want her back because she belongs to them as the wife of Menelaus.

Contemporary artist Eleanor Antin (b.1935) recreated the Judgement of Paris in a humorous, modern, photographic manner. The male models represent Zeus and Paris who are looking at the three goddesses whilst trying to decide which of them is the most beautiful. Athena, the goddess of warfare amongst other things, holds her rifle aloft, whilst Aphrodite in magenta and purple strikes a tempting pose. Presumably, the winged child hugging Aphrodite is Eros, known as Cupid in Roman mythology. The most humorous depiction of a goddess is Hera, goddess of the home, who dressed as a 1950s housewife, holds a vacuum cleaner in one hand. Helen, who is dark-haired in this version, sits to the side, thoroughly annoyed that she is being treated as a possession rather than a human being.

William Blake’s (1757-1827) The Judgement of Paris is more in keeping with other artists’ version of the scene. The three goddesses, all of them naked, stand in front of Paris as he hands the apple to Aphrodite. In the sky above, a demonic figure, possibly Eris the goddess of discord, indicates the destruction that is yet to come.

The exhibition ends with two shields. Since Roman times, people have attempted to recreate Achilles’ shield, which as no one knows what it looked like, has been a virtually impossible task. According to Homer, the shield was forged by the god Hephaestus and, therefore, was better than any man-made shield. In 1822, John Flaxman (1755-1826) designed a shield that took inspiration from ancient works of art. Using clay to make a model, Flaxman included scenes from the Trojan War on the shield, which was eventually gilded in silver.

The other shield is a contemporary installation by Spencer Finch (b.1962). Made from fluorescent lamps positioned in a radiating circle, Finch created this shield after visiting Troy and feeling moved by the mythical stories. Whilst this particular shield would be useless in battle, it shows the story of the Trojan War is still fresh and popular in the 21st century. Whether myth or reality, the story continues to live on.

Troy: Myth and Reality is on display at the British Museum until 8th March 2020. Tickets are £20, however, under 16s can attend for free when accompanied by a paying adult.

The Virgin of the Rocks

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The 500th anniversary year of Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452-1519) death has come to an end but not before the National Gallery jumped on the bandwagon and ended the year with the exhibition Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece. Unlike the Queen’s Gallery, which focused on Leonardo’s life, and the British Library, which displayed examples of his notebooks, the National Gallery chose to focus on just one of the artist’s paintings: The Virgin of the Rocks.

The exhibition was split into four sections, each exploring a different aspect. Firstly, by reading quotes from Leonardo’s notebooks in a mirror (he always wrote backwards) visitors learnt about his fascination with rocks and landscapes, which feature in the background of many of his works. Secondly, visitors were introduced to a mock-modern studio, which revealed the secrets that science and conservation have revealed about The Virgin of the Rocks, for example, the colours used and the discarded composition hidden under the paint. The third room allowed visitors to experiment with shadows, discovering the dramatic effects light has on an object. Finally, visitors came face to face with the original painting, hanging on the wall of an imagined chapel to contemplate how the masterpiece looked in its original setting.

The Virgin of the Rocks, sometimes known as Madonna of the Rocks, is the title of two paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. They both depict the same scene: the Madonna and Child Jesus with the infant John the Baptist and an angel in a rocky setting; however, there are a few significant differences, for example, the direction of the angel’s gaze. The original version, or at least the version considered to be the eldest, hangs in the Louvre in Paris, the other, hangs in the National Gallery and was the subject of the Leonardo exhibition.

Leonardo was commissioned to paint The Virgin of the Rocks shortly after his move to Milan in the early 1480s. Having established his painting career in Florence, Leonardo had moved to search for new opportunities, which he found at the church of S. Francesco Grande. On 25th April 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scoreline contracted Leonardo to produce painted panels for the new altarpiece in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception that was attached to the church. Leonardo was contracted as the “master” of the project with brothers Ambrogio and Evangelista de Predis as his assistants.

The artists were instructed on the colours and subject of the paintings. The central panel was to be of the Virgin Mary and Christ child with two prophets, perhaps David and Isaiah, surrounded by angels. Another panel was to show the Virgin Mary with God the panels to the side of the main painting were to contain angelic musicians. The job was to be completed by 8th December 1483, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.

As can be seen when looking at both versions of the painting, Leonardo did not stick to the instructions. Only one angel is present in the scene and there are no prophets except for the child John the Baptist. The church was not happy with the work Leonardo had produced by the completion deadline, therefore, he continued to work on it for a further five years until they were satisfied. Unfortunately, there was a dispute over payment so Leonardo, whether from spite or the need for money, sold the painting, which has eventually found itself in the Louvre. Leonardo was allowed to begin a second version, which was installed in the chapel in 1508.

The subject of the two paintings, which was not what the church had originally requested, is the adoration of the Christ child by the infant John the Baptist. Although it depicts Biblical characters, the scene is not an event that features in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew reports that Joseph, Mary’s husband, was warned by an angel in a dream about King Herod the Great who had ordered that “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” were to be killed. (Matthew 2:16 ESV) Therefore, Joseph fled to Egypt with his wife and Jesus.

Several non-Biblical stories explain the flight to Egypt in more detail. One such story claims John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was also staying with his family in Bethlehem where the Massacre of the Innocents was about to take place. Whilst the Holy Family made their way to Egypt after the angel’s warning, John the Baptist was escorted there by the Archangel Uriel, where he met his aunt and cousin on the road. It is this scene that Leonardo painted, therefore, it is assumed the angel he depicted is Uriel. Similar stories, however, claim the angel was Gabriel.

It is not certain whose idea it was to deviate from the original contract but Leonardo had just come from Florence, whose patron saint was John the Baptist. Many religious artworks produced in Renaissance Florence involved the Christ child with John the Baptist, therefore, it may have only been natural for Leonardo to include the future preacher in his painting.

Both paintings contain the same subject matter and similar background of rocks and distant mountains. The Christ child sits on the right of the painting, being supported by the angel, raising his hand as a sign of Benediction towards his cousin. John, on the opposite side of the painting, kneels with his hands together as though in prayer, whilst gazing at Jesus. This, however, is where the similarities end.

The figures in the second painting are slightly larger than the original and everything is more defined. In the first, the angel’s hand is raised as though pointing at John, whereas in the second, he rests his hand on his lap. The pointing angel also looks out towards the viewer, almost as though it is saying, “Look, it is John!” Leonardo’s second angel, on the other hand, looks down in a contemplative manner. Other notable differences include the halos, which are omited in the first painting, and the cross held by John, which only features in the second.

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A study of the fall of light on a face, about 1488

The style of the second painting appears to be remarkably different from the former. The sharpness of the outlines is one thing but there is also a lot of attention to shadow and shade. Notebooks belonging to Leonardo reveal he approached his paintings in a scientific way. Being a polymath, Leonardo was interested in the natural world and human anatomy, therefore, paid great attention to detail. He was aware of the effects light had on an image. When lit from above, shadows fall in a different direction to when lit from below, which can create a vastly different appearance. In the first painting, there is a distinct lack of shadow, however, it features heavily in the second.

The effect of contrasting light and shadow in art is known as chiaroscuro, which is derived from the Latin words for clear/bright and dark/obscure. The term was first used during the Renaissance period, coinciding with Leonardo’s career. Since it was a new idea, Leonardo may not have been educated in chiaroscuro painting but rather developed the style himself. This could explain the difference in style between version one and two, however, some people also suggest the second was painted by someone else under Leonardo’s instruction.

The rocky background blocks out a lot of the natural light, the only daylight coming through a small gap to the left of Mary. As a result, the opposite corner is in shadow and only parts of the four figures are lit by the light. Rather than making it difficult to view the characters, the gloomy light creates an unnatural illumination, which highlights and emphasises their features.

Another technique Leonardo used is sfumato, which means “shaded off”. This is a method for softening the transition between colours and tones, making parts of the painting appear out of focus. It is also useful when painting backgrounds, mimicking an area beyond what the human eye can see. Leonardo described sfumato as blending colours, without the use of lines or borders “in the manner of smoke”.

Leonardo used sfumato around the edges of delicate forms, such as the Virgin Mary’s facial features. Rather than drawing the nose, eyes and mouth with stark outlines, Leonardo made them seem to emerge gradually from the darkness. By using graduated smoky tones, the figures appear three-dimensional.

Leonardo also used sfumato in the background where the tips of the mountain reached the sky, creating the illusion that the land continues on further than the eye can see. Just as he had studied how the light fell on the human figures, Leonardo concentrated on the shadows on the rocks that framed the light source, making the background as interesting to look at as the figures in the foreground.

As well as being a prolific painter and biologist, Leonardo had a lifelong passion for the natural world. Many of his surviving sketches feature his observations of nature, including rivers, rock formations, trees and plants, including a star-of-Bethlehem, which features in the foreground of Virgin of the Rocks. The majority of these drawings were observations of the areas he lived or travelled through. It may be due to this fascination that Leonardo used a dramatic rock formation for the background of both versions of the painting. It certainly does not represent the Egyptian deserts of the land to which the Holy Family fled.

Although the rock formation is a natural landscape, it creates an other-worldly landscape when placed behind the Virgin Mary. The broken rocks thrust upwards from the ground and downwards from the roof of a cave, creating energy that contrasts with the peaceful meeting of John and Jesus as well as the calm water between the rocks and the mountains in the distance.

The landscape feels primaeval, as though it had remained untouched since God created it thousands of years before Christ’s birth. The presence of the Holy Family makes the environment come alive, plants blooming beneath John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. Although one plant appears to be a star-of-Bethlehem, the other plants have been invented by Leonardo.

Whilst The Virgin of the Rocks (second version) is impressive to look at, science and technology have revealed hidden details that create a mystery about the painting and commission. Many paintings have underdrawings, showing the preliminary sketches of the artist before they began applying paint to the canvas. When conservators examined The Virgin of the Rocks in 2005 for the underdrawing, they were surprised to find a different sketch to the final composition.

Infrared reflectography (IRR) revealed Leonardo had begun a drawing of the Virgin Mary then abandoned it. A detailed eye could be seen on the scans but little was thought of it at the time other than the artist had not been happy and started again.

More recently, the painting has been examined again with new technologies and more details have been discovered. Macro X-ray fluorescence scanning showed up elements under the painting that had been drawn in a material that contained zinc. This showed up an alternative composition of the angel and Christ child. With wings slightly open, the angel appears to be looking tenderly down at the baby, holding him in a tight embrace.

Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) provided clearer images of the angel and baby, revealing that the Christ child’s arm is raised. Whether Jesus was interacting with the angel or reaching for his mother or John is unclear.

When examining the rest of the painting, an entirely different scene was revealed. The angel appears to be holding the Christ child on his lap, who is reaching out for his mother. Rather than sitting comfortably as she is in the finished version, Mary is on her knees in mid-movement, facing her son with one arm thrown out and the other on her chest as though in adoration. John the Baptist does not appear at all.

No one knows why Leonardo changed his original composition so drastically. Perhaps there was an intervention from the church who may have wanted Leonardo to paint a replica of the first painting. Nonetheless, this second version is by no means a reproduction. The use of lighting and attention to detail shows Leonardo had conducted more research into optics and human physiology, resulting in a more realistic interpretation of the Holy Family.

There may be more hidden under the painted layers of The Virgin of the Rocks, however, until technology is enhanced further, there is no way of knowing. Unfortunately, it is 500 years since the artist died, therefore, it is impossible to answer the many questions these revelations provoke.

Using lights and animation, the National Gallery recreated how Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks would have looked in its original setting. Today, Leonardo’s work hangs as a stand-alone painting in the gallery, however, it was originally made to be inserted into a pre-existing sculpted altarpiece, carved by Giacomo del Maino (1469-1505), in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. Over the following centuries, the altar was modified several times and eventually dismantled in 1780. The chapel in which the altar stood had also been demolished, and the rest of the church was torn down by Napoleon (1769-1821) to make way for barracks in 1806.

Following the dismantling of the altar, the Scottish painter and antiquarian Gavin Hamilton (1723-98) purchased Leonardo’s painting and brought it to England. Two paintings of angels that featured on the altar, although not painted by Leonardo, were also sold, however, the rest of the altarpiece is now lost.

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The Contract

Some evidence remains that helps us picture what the chapel once looked like. The commission for a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin can be traced to the spring of 1475 when the Franciscan friar and theologian Stefano da Oleggio proposed the idea during one of his sermons. Italian painters Francesco Zavattari (active 1417-1453) and Giorgio della Chiesa were commissioned to paint the decorative touches to the dome of the chapel, which included stars and the images of God, seraphim and the four Evangelists.

The contract states that the chosen sculptor of the altar had previously produced altarpieces in other churches in places such as Ponte, Sernio, Morbegno and Ardenno to the north of Milan. It is likely the church requested something similar from the sculptor.

As well as the paintings, Leonardo and his two assistants were contracted to paint and guild the entire altarpiece. In total, sixteen items were included in the contract. A statue of “Our Lady” was to have an outer coat of gold and ultramarine blue brocade and a dress of gold and crimson. The seraphim were to be painted red, but the other angels were to be decorated “in the Greek manner, painted in oils.” The place where the Christ child lay was to be painted to resemble a straw basket. “All the faces, hands and legs that are bare should be painted in oil to perfection.”

It is from the description of the contract and the existing examples of altarpieces from other churches in the area that the National Gallery managed to recreate an interactive version of the altar at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin in the Church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. Of course, no one can ever be certain how it looked but to see The Virgin of the Rocks in situ was a breathtaking experience.

Leonardo: Experience a Masterpiece has been extended until 26th January 2020, therefore, there is one week remaining in which to view The Virgin of the Rocks in a unique setting. Tickets are £18 and it is recommended that a timed ticket is purchased in advance of the visit.

Hogarth: Place and Progress

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The Painter and His Pug by William Hogarth

For the first time, William Hogarth’s “Modern Moral Subjects” narrative series were united in an exhibition that explored the artist’s views on morality, society and London. Where better to hold the exhibition than at the unconventional Sir John Soane’s Museum, which already owned two series of Hogarth’s works. Sir John Soane (1753-1837) and his wife Eliza purchased Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress in 1802, followed by The Humours of an Election in 1823. For three months, visitors to the museum were able to view these paintings alongside Hogarth’s other narrative series, including Marriage A-la-Mode, Four Times of Day, The Happy Marriage, The Four Stages of Cruelty, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane and Beer Street.

William Hogarth was both an engraver and painter – the most outstanding in Britain during the 18th century. Born on 10th November 1697, Hogarth grew up in London where his father worked as a schoolteacher. Unfortunately, Hogarth Senior was imprisoned for debt, which had a great impact on his young son, evidenced in the prison scenes of later paintings.

Hogarth entered the art world by training as a silver plate engraver, eventually opening up his own London business in 1720. Although his working day was spent completing various commercial tasks, he spent his remaining spare time at the St Martin’s Lane Academy, studying painting under Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734).

Within the next decade, Hogarth’s painting skills were recognised through the success of his conversation pieces. He then went on to develop a new idea of using a sequence of paintings to tell a story – a precursor to the modern-day comic book. As a result of his unsatisfactory childhood, these sequential artworks focused on morals and social inadequacies.

A Harlot’s Progress (1732)

A Harlot’s Progress was the first of Hogarth’s “Modern Moral Subjects”, however, the original paintings were lost in a fire in 1755. Fortunately, engravings had been produced of the series, saving it from falling into obscurity. The series consists of six scenes that tell the story of the protagonist “M. Hackabout” and her fall from grace. It has been suggested the fictional character may have been inspired by Daniel Defoe’s (1660-1731) novel Moll Flanders, however, there is also a connection with the notorious prostitute Kate Hackabout, the sister of highwayman Francis Hackabout (hanged in 1730).

In the first scene, Moll or Mary Hackabout has arrived in Cheapside, the historic financial centre of London. Dressed immaculately, the innocent country girl has come to London in search of employment as a seamstress. Unfortunately, the unchaperoned girl has been discovered by Elizabeth Needham (d.1731), a middle-aged English procuress and brothel-keeper. Whilst Needham tries to lure Hackabout into prostitution, Colonel Francis Charteris (1675-1732), a Scottish soldier nicknamed “The Rape-Master General” looks on from the doorway of the Bell Inn.

The presence of Needham and Charteris is enough to suggest the direction of Hackabout’s future, however, Hogarth has included other visual clues in the picture. Hackabout is dressed in white, the same colour of the dead goose in her luggage, which foretells of her early death as a result of her gullibility. A teetering pile of pans also allude to Hackabout’s “fall”.

How Hackabout fared at the brothel is unknown because, by the second scene, she is now the mistress of a wealthy Jewish merchant. The merchant’s riches are evident from the West Indian serving boy, monkey, artwork on the walls and the mahogany table. Whilst this may seem a step up from the Brothel, Hackabout has taken on a young lover who can be seen in the background trying to escape whilst Hackabout causes a distraction by knocking the table over.

The Jewish merchant evidently caught on to Hackabout’s secret tryst because in the third scene she is no longer a kept woman but a common prostitute at the Rose Tavern in Drury Lane. Hackabout is shown sitting on her bed looking through the items she has stolen from various clients whilst being tended to by an old and syphilitic maid. On the wall hangs a witches hat and broomstick, suggesting prostitution is the work of the devil and a box belonging to the highwayman James Dalton (d. 1730) is stored above the bed, indicating the type of people with whom Hackabout has become involved. Her life is about to be disrupted once again, however, by the magistrate John Gonson (d. 1765) and three armed bailiffs coming through the door.

Hackabout is taken to Bridewell Prison, a place of correction for wayward women where, in scene four, she beats hemp to be used to produce hangman’s nooses. Hackabout is still dressed in fine clothes, however, the state of the women around her suggest she will not stay that way for long.

By scene five, Hackabout’s life as a prostitute has finally caught up with her as she lays dying from syphilis. Two doctors, the English Richard Rock (1690-1777) and the French Jean Misaubin (1673-1734) argue over the right type of treatment, evidently unaware that their patient is about to take her final breath. The presence of a child suggests Hackabout had a son, however, his disinterest in the situation makes it clear they did not have a loving relationship.

At Hackabout’s funeral in scene six, only one person appears concerned about her death – a young woman who peers into the coffin, seeing her own fate if she does not change her situation. An inscription on the coffin lid reveals Hackabout died at only 23 years old, but the people in the room seem not to care about the passing of such a young life, particularly the parson who spills his drink while getting cosy with the woman seated beside him.

Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress reveals how quickly a person can fall into temptation and sin, going from innocent young girl to the grave in a handful of years. Hogarth originally painted a picture of a prostitute for rakish clientele, however, he decided to explore how the girl found herself in that situation and her eventual fate. As a result, A Harlot’s Progress is a warning to young women living during Hogarth’s time of the sinfulness in London and the impossibility of escaping a life of prostitution once one has “fallen”.

A Rake’s Progress (1734)

Hogarth’s second and most famous progress is A Rake’s Progress, which usually hangs in the Picture Room at the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Following the success of A Harlot’s Progress, Hogarth decided to explore the fate of a male character whose sins lead to inevitable death. The Rake, Tom Rakewell, is the son and heir of a rich merchant. In the first scene of eight, Tom is being measured for new clothes, using the money he has gained from the death of his father. Whilst the servants mourn their master’s passing, Tom is more concerned about getting rid of his pregnant fiancée Sarah Young, despite having had a common-law marriage with her.

Tom Rakewell moves to London where he purchases a spacious house in the West End. Scene two shows Tom at his morning levée attended by a music master on the harpsichord (potentially George Frideric Handel), a fencing master, a dancing master, an ex-soldier, a bugler, a jockey and the landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman (1690-1738). Tom has yet to “fall” but his lavish spending of money reveals him to be a spendthrift and at risk of losing his wealth.

Scene three shows a vastly different party to the previous painting. Tom is attending an orgy at a brothel, potentially the Rose Tavern, Drury Lane, with many drunk men and prostitutes. Having had too much to drink, Tom slouches in a chair where he is distracted by one of the prostitutes whilst another picks his pockets. The immorality of the scene is emphasised by an upturned chamber pot spilling its contents onto a plate of food. Hogarth has painted black spots on the faces on the prostitutes to suggest they are suffering from venereal diseases.

By scene four, Tom has spent all his money and has been arrested for debt by Welsh bailiffs in the centre of London. The scene reveals he was apprehended whilst on his way to St. James’s Palace to celebrate Queen Caroline’s (1683-1737) birthday, which was incidentally Saint David’s Day, hence all the Welsh symbolism. Fortunately, Tom’s rejected fiancée Sarah Young is passing by and, because she still loves him, pays his fine, saving him from debtors prison. Hogarth adds comic elements to this scene, including a lamplighter accidentally pouring oil on Tom’s head and a young thief stealing Tom’s cane.

In an attempt to salvage his fortune, Tom marries a rich but elderly woman at St Marylebone Church, as shown in scene five. In the background is Sarah Young with their child, trying to stop the wedding but guests prevent her from entering the church. Tom is completely oblivious to the commotion and also shows little interest in the wedding, eyeing his new wife’s pretty maid rather than focusing on the ceremony.

Despite marrying into money, Tom’s addiction to spending and gambling gets the better of him. Scene six takes place in a gaming den at White’s Club in Soho where Tom has, once again, lost all his money. Whilst Tom kneels on the floor begging for divine intervention, other gamblers continue playing, completely oblivious that a fire has broken out at the back of the room.

Tom survived the fire but Sarah Young was unable to save him from Fleet’s debtors prison, which is where he ends up in scene seven. Although Sarah has come to visit with their child, she faints at the scene before her; meanwhile, Tom’s wife berates him for spending all her money and leaving her with no resources or protection. The jailer and beer-boy demand money from Tom, which he is unable to pay, having given up on writing a play in an attempt to earn money.

With no hope left, Tom goes insane and possibly violent, ending his days chained up in Bethlem hospital, London’s infamous mental asylum. The ever-faithful Sarah Young is the only person there to comfort him whilst fashionably dressed women visit the madhouse for fun as a place of entertainment. The bizarre antics of the other inmates, such as a naked man wearing a crown and urinating on the floor, reveal how filthy and inhospitable the asylum was during Hogarth’s time.

Since mental health is better understood today, 21st-century viewers of the paintings may be shocked by the behaviour of the wealthy in the final scene. The mentally ill were exploited for entertainment purposes and their chance of recovery was slim or nonexistent. Although Hogarth never painted Tom Rakewell’s death, it is clear from the conditions of the hospital that he would die there – his punishment for living such an immoral life.

Marriage A-la-Mode (1743-45)

Marriage A-la-Mode differs from Hogarth’s previous series in that it does not tell the story of an unfortunate individual but rather the unavoidably tragic story of an arranged marriage. Wealthy families tended to arrange the marriages of their children to benefit the family name and business, however, Earl Squanderfield has become bankrupt. Nonetheless, he is determined to arrange a marriage between his son and the daughter of a wealthy city merchant. The Earl uses his family tree, which claims he is descended from William the Conqueror, to win over the miserly merchant.

The first scene reveals the attitudes of the son and daughter toward their impending marriage. The young girl is in tears, evidently not wanting to marry the Earl’s uninterested son who gazes at himself in a mirror. The health of the Earl demonstrates the fate of selfish, money-grabbing people, resting his swollen, gouty foot on a footstool under the table.

The second scene takes place at a grander house, suggesting the Earl has died and the son has used his inheritance and wife’s money on luxuries. His money cannot last forever, which is clear from the stack of unpaid bills in the steward’s hands. The marriage also appears to be failing as the husband appears to be uninterested in his wife who is attempting to entice him over the breakfast table. A lady’s cap poking out of his pocket suggests he has been conducting an affair with another woman, and a black mark on his skin hints he may be suffering from syphilis.

The lady who the cap belonged to could be the young girl in the next scene. Set in a quack doctor’s surgery, the girl looks too small to be the man’s wife, therefore, it can be assumed she is the husband’s lover. The reason for visiting the quack is uncertain; some say the husband is complaining the mercury pills previously prescribed were not curing his syphilis, whereas, others point out the girl looks particularly unwell, therefore, could be pregnant or may have been infected with syphilis by her lover. It has been suggested that the other woman in the painting is the girl’s mother who is blackmailing the husband for defiling her daughter, however, the signs of syphilis on the mother’s skin imply she is equally to blame.

As earl and countess, the husband and wife hold and attend many parties, including one which is shown in scene four. The guests are preparing to enter the ballroom but the countess has turned her back on them to talk to a lawyer named Silvertongue. Various symbols suggest an existence of an affair between countess and lawyer, which is confirmed in the next scene where the earl discovers his wife in her private rooms with her lover.

Presumably after a duel, the earl is fatally wounded and the lawyer makes a hasty exit through the window in his nightshirt, as shown in scene five. Interestingly, the countess reaches out for her dying husband, forgetting all about her lover, despite the lack of affection in the marriage.

Whether from guilt or grief, the countess poisons herself with a bottle of laudanum, which lies empty at her feet in the final scene. An elderly woman lifts a baby to kiss its mother goodbye, revealing marks of syphilis on the baby’s cheek and leg, possibly passed on by the father. The countess’ father removes the wedding ring from his dead daughter’s finger, presumably to try and sell as it is the only item of worth in the poverty-stricken house.

With this series, Hogarth was satirising the rich and their arranged marriages. Whilst poorer, the common people were more likely to marry for love and live happily, unlike the wealthy who could afford to turn to vices to make up for the lack of affection in their lives.

The Happy Marriage (after 1745)

Following the completion of Marriage A-la-Mode, Hogarth began working on a positive counterpart known as The Happy Marriage. The series was never completed and all that remains are three unfinished paintings and four engravings made by artists after Hogarth’s death. Reasons for abandoning the project are widely speculated from the suggestion that “the rancour and malevolence of his mind” made it impossible for Hogarth to paint happy scenes, to it was too similar to works by other artists or authors at the time, for instance, the novel Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richarson (1675-1732).

Due to the incompleteness, it is not certain in what order the images were intended to be viewed, however, some art critics have managed to piece together some semblance of a story. Unlike in Marriage A-la-Mode where the marriage was forced upon the young couple, The Happy Marriage begins with a courtship during which time they attend a garden party. A marriage eventually follows and the couple lives happily together with several children. One engraving also suggests they assisted the poor by handing out money and provisions.

It is thought the timespan of The Happy Marriage is the same as its counterpart, thus revealing how different life can be when a couple remains virtuous.

The Four Times of Day (1736-37)

The Four Times of Day is different from Hogarth’s previous works in that it does not follow a story but rather an observation of the goings-on in London over 24 hours. Slightly humorous in parts, Hogarth depicted people of all classes without showing preference to any particular type of person.

The first painting, titled Morning, shows an upper-class lady on her way to a church near Covent Garden, presumably St Paul’s Church, whose recognisable Palladian portico can be seen on the left-hand side. In front of the church is Tom King’s Coffee House, a regular haunt for prostitutes and their customers. The lady shields herself with her fan as she passes the disorderly group outside of the coffee house, who still appear to be intoxicated from the night before.

Noon takes place in the district of St Giles in the West End of London. On one side of the painting, well-dressed Huguenots are leaving the church, presumably St Giles in the Fields, which contrasts with the opposite scene. A small slovenly maid walks past the rotting corpse of a cat and the churchgoers, distracted by a black man fondling her breast. Not only is she unaware of her surroundings, but she is also no longer concentrating on her work, causing the contents of her pie dish to fall onto and break the plate of the boy in front of her, who stands there in distress.

The third scene, Evening, takes place in Clerkenwell, which during Hogarth’s time was outside of the city. A cow being milked in the background suggests it is about 5 pm and an ill-matched couple are returning from the capital. The husband, who carries his exhausted daughter, is a dyer by trade, evidenced by his stained finger-tips. The wife, presumably pregnant due to her size, tries to cool herself down with a fan displaying the classical scene of Venus and Adonis, suggesting she has been unfaithful to her husband. The timing of the scene places the husband directly in front of the cow’s head, making it appear as though the cow’s horns belonged to him. This is symbolic of a cuckold, the husband of an adulterous wife, which suggests his daughter and the unborn child may not be his.

The series ends with the scene Night, which takes place in Charing Cross with the statue of Charles I in the background. Scholars have suggested the date of the scene to be 29th May and, therefore, the people in the scene are returning home after celebrating the anniversary of the Restoration of the Monarchy. Charing Cross was a central staging post for coaches, just as it is now for taxis, however, the surrounding narrow roads were difficult to traverse during congested times. Hogarth reveals the fate of one of these coaches, which has overturned in front of a bonfire. The coach has yet to catch fire, however, the faces of the terrified passengers suggests the disaster will be inevitable. Meanwhile, a scene through a window reveals the unhygienic room belonging to a barber-surgeon. In those days, surgeons and barbers were one and the same, hence the sign that reads “Shaving, bleeding, and teeth drawn with a touch”. The barber, probably drunk after the day’s festivities, haphazardly shaves the beard of a customer with a knife that has no doubt been used for other more gruesome jobs.

The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751)

Ultimately, Hogarth’s progress series were produced as warnings against immoral behaviour. The Four Stages of Cruelty “were done in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind, than any thing whatever.” (Hogarth) Rather than painting, Hogarth decided to only make engravings, which could be printed in multiples and distributed to a wider audience.

The series follows a character called Tom Nero who, in the first stage of cruelty, is seen inserting an arrow up a dog’s backside. Other boys in the street carry out other barbaric acts, such as burning out a bird’s eyes. Meanwhile, a tenderhearted boy pleads with Tom to cease the torture. It is said this well-dressed boy represents a young George III.

Tom is older in the second stage of cruelty and makes a living as a hackney coachman. His cruelty of animals as a schoolboy has continued into adulthood and he can be seen beating his horse, who has collapsed due to the previous mistreatment and overwork. Ironically, the overweight passengers in the carriage are lawyers, who turn a blind eye to Tom’s crimes. This, along with the lack of law enforcement in the first scene was Hogarth’s way of pointing out animals had no protection for mistreatment and violent crimes.

Things have escalated by the third scene, which reveals Tom has turned to thieving and murder. Tom persuaded his pregnant girlfriend Ann Gill to rob and leave her mistress. Ann, however, has second thoughts after the event, so to keep her quiet, Tom murders her. Her mutilated body lies at the bottom of the engraving along with a note that reads:

Dear Tommy
My mistress has been the best of women to me, and my conscience flies in my face as often as I think of wronging her; yet I am resolved to venture body and soul to do as you would have me, so do not fail to meet me as you said you would, for I will bring along with me all the things I can lay my hands on. So no more at present; but I remain yours till death.
Ann Gill.

Now that Tom has murdered a human being, the authorities finally get involved. In the final scene, Tom has been found guilty and hanged for his crime. The scene shows Tom’s corpse being subjected to the process of public dissection, however, the contortions of the body and expression of agony on Tom’s face suggests he was not yet dead when removed from the hangman’s noose.

Although The Four Stages of Cruelty did not have an immediate effect, Hogarth was pleased with the results. Eighty years after the scenes were published, the first Cruelty to Animals Act was passed by Parliament, outlawing the animal tortures depicted in Hogarth’s work.

The Humours of an Election (1754-55)

Whilst the majority of Hogarth’s works are based on fictional people, The Humours of an Election is a satirical series of oil paintings about an election held in Oxfordshire in 1754. Hogarth demonstrates the corruption of parliamentary elections before the Great Reform Act, which was eventually passed several decades after the artist’s death.

In the first scene, An Election Entertainment, the Whig candidates are enjoying a meal at an Inn whilst the Tories can be seen through the window protesting on the streets. Members of the latter party hold a banner with the words “Give us our Eleven days” in protest against the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

Supposedly parodying the Last Supper, the Whig candidates try to butter up their supporters, which includes kissing an unattractive pregnant woman and listening to a drunk man’s story. Meanwhile, one man is knocked out by a brick thrown through the window by the Tories and another collapses from eating too many oysters. Hogarth pokes fun at the Irish politician Sir John Parnell (1720-82) who is seated at the table using a napkin as a hand puppet.

Scene two, Canvassing for Votes, shows two opposing candidates attempting to bribe an innkeeper to vote for them. Although this series is based on Oxford, Hogarth named the town Guzzletown, implying the members of parliament are corrupt drunks. The parties are represented by different inns: The Crown for the Whigs and the Royal Oak for the Tories. The Whigs’ establishment is being mobbed by those opposed to being taxed, whereas, the Tories are made to appear antisemitic. A third establishment, the Portobello Inn, represents an independent party.

The next stage of the progress is The Polling, in which voters are shown declaring their support for their favoured party. The Whigs are represented by an orange banner and the Tories with blue. Both parties are using unethical tactics to increase their votes, for instance, forcing a mentally disabled man to vote and carrying forward a man on the brink of death. Meanwhile, a genuine voter, a veteran soldier, is challenged because he has lost both of his hands and cannot swear his identity on the Bible. In the background, a woman in a coach that represents Britannia struggles as the carriage breaks down, unbeknownst to the drivers who are too busy playing cards, one of whom is cheating.

The final scene, Chairing the Member, depicts the aftermath of the election. A victorious Tory candidate is being carried aloft on a chair but is about to be knocked over by two opposing voters who are fighting in the street. Although the scene is one of celebration, there are many impending disasters that only the viewer can see. Pigs run riot, two chimney sweeps urinate on a dancing bear and, in the background, hoards of either celebrating or protesting voters are crowding the street.

At the time, Hogarth was making a mockery of the way elections were held, highlighting how corrupt the politicians were. Nowadays, the paintings are useful for historians when researching how elections were held in the 18th century, for instance, the lack of a secret ballot.

Industry and Idleness (1747)

Just as he went on to do with The Four Stages of Cruelty, Hogarth created Industry and Idleness solely as a set of engravings. With a total of twelve plates, this is the longest series of work Hogarth completed, which tackles both the inevitable consequences of vice and the rewards of virtue. The series follows the lives of two characters, Francis Goodchild and Tom Idle, who begin life on the same rung of the ladder but gradually move towards their respective fates. Each scene is accompanied by a Biblical reference, which foreshadows the future.

In plate one, Goodchild and Idle are apprentice weavers, however, their attitude to the work differs greatly. “The hand of the diligent maketh rich,” (Proverbs 10:4) describes Goodfellow, who is busy at the loom surrounded by helpful literature, including his copy of The Prentice’s Guide. On the other hand, “The Drunkard shall come to Poverty, & drowsiness shall cloath a Man with rags,” (Proverbs 23:21) warns of Idle’s fate, who is already disappointing his master by sleeping on the job.

“O! How I love thy Law it is my meditation all day.”
Psalm 119:97

On Sundays, the apprentices were given the day off to attend church, which is what Goodchild is doing in plate two. He can be seen standing next to the master’s daughter at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Meanwhile, in plate three, Idle is spending his Sunday rather differently.

“Judgments are prepared for scorners & stripes for the back of Fools”
Proverbs 19:29

Rather than attend a church service, Tom Idle remains in the churchyard with other badly behaved boys who are sitting on top of a tombstone and gambling with a few coins. Behind them stands a beadle, ready to beat the boys for their disrespect.

“Well done good and faithfull servant thou hast been faithfull over a few things, I will make thee Ruler over many things.”
Matthew 25:21

By plate four, Goodchild has been promoted from apprentice to the bookkeeper of his master’s business. The set of keys and a money bag in Goodchild’s hands proves he has earnt his master’s trust.

“A foolish son is the heaviness of his Mother.”
Proverbs 10:1

Idle, on the other hand, has been turned away from the business and sent out to sea to earn a living. Plate five shows Idle and his weeping mother crossing the Thames in a wooden rowing boat, however, Idle has thrown his contract in the water, no longer wanting to be under anyone’s authority.

“The Virtuous Woman is a Crown to her Husband.”‘
Proverbs 12:4

Not only did Goodchild work his way up in the weaving company, but he also won the hand of his master’s daughter, who he has married by plate six. Mr and Mrs Goodchild stand at a window, distributing the remnants of their dinner to the poor. A sign hanging on the building reveals Goodchild’s name has been added to the title of the family business.

“The Sound of a Shaken Leaf shall Chace him.”
Leviticus 26:30

Having rejected formal employment, Idle has become a thief or highwayman and has taken up residence with a common prostitute. While this woman studies Idle’s latest spoils, Idle starts at the sound of a cat falling down the chimney. The bolts and extra planks of wood on the door to the room suggest Idle is terrified of the law catching him for his crimes.

“With all thy getting get understanding Exalt her, & she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost Embrace her.”
Proverbs 4:7-8

Whilst Idle hides away, Mr and Mrs Goodchild attend an opulent banquet where they sit in the seats of the guests of honour. Although Goodchild has become associated with the upper class who Hogarth generally dispised, he portrays Goodchild as a well-dressed individual, whereas, the others present at the meal tend to be overweight, unruly and busy stuffing food into their mouths.

“The Adulteress will hunt for the precious life.”
Proverbs 6:26

Idle progresses from thieving to murder, as seen in plate nine. Idle is examining the possessions of his recent victim whilst another man disposes of the body through a trap door. Idle’s prostitute, however, reveals Idle’s location to men of the Law in exchange for a small sum of money. With nowhere to run, Idle is about to be caught red-handed.

“The Wicked is snar’d in the work of his own hands.”
Psalm 9:16

“Thou shalt do no unrighteousness in Judgement.”
Leviticus 19:15

Idle and Goodchild’s paths cross once more in plate ten. Goodchild has become an alderman and it is his job to sentence Idle for his crimes. Despite the pleading of Idle and his mother, Goodchild has no choice but to sentence Idle to death. The expression on Goodchild’s face suggests he is struggling to hide his emotions and feelings for his former workmate.

“When fear cometh as desolation, and their destruction cometh as a Whirlwind; when distress cometh upon them, they shall call upon God, but he will not answer.”
Proverbs 1:27

So, Idle meets his fate in plate eleven as he travels to the gallows. In the coach, Idle leans against his coffin whilst a Methodist preacher makes a last-minute attempt to persuade Idle to repent of his sins. The coach is surrounded by crowds of people travelling to witness Idle’s execution. No one looks particularly upset about Idle’s fate and only accompany him out of morbid curiosity.

“Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand Riches and Honour.”
Proverbs 3:16

By the end of the series, Goodchild’s life is a stark contrast to his deceased workmate. Due to his virtuous nature, Goodchild has been elected Lord Mayor of the City and rides through a celebrating crowd in the Lord Mayor’s carriage. Since this is the final plate, Hogarth does not reveal how Goodchild’s life ends, however, if the previous plates are anything to go by, Goodchild is likely to have a long and happy future.

Gin Lane and Beer Street (1751)

Although Gin Lane and Beer Street are not one of Hogarth’s “Modern Moral Subjects” nor a series, the two prints were an appropriate ending to the exhibition at the John Soane’s Museum. Hogarth issued these prints the year after the Sales of Spirits Act was passed in 1750, also known as the Gin Act. Since the quality of water in London was so poor, citizens took to drinking gin as a cheap alternative. Unfortunately, this led to extreme drunkenness and addiction. Even when prices were raised, people still found a way to purchase and abuse gin. With these two prints, Hogarth was attempting to persuade people to drink a “safer” alternative: beer.

Gin Lane is set in the slum district of St Giles full of dishevelled people on the brink of death or despair. The only two flourishing businesses are the gin seller and the pawnbroker, where people sell their possessions for a few pennies to spend on gin. In the foreground are two people whose lives have been ruined by gin. One man resembles a skeleton, having given up food to be able to afford the drink. The other person, a woman, is so drunk she lets her baby slip from her arms, plunging to certain death. The syphilitic sores on the woman’s legs suggest she may have taken to prostitution to fund her addiction.

Beer Street, on the other hand, is set near St Martin-in-the-Fields on 30th October, George II’s birthday. The inhabitants are good-humoured, well dressed and, although they are all drinking, are taking a break from a hard day’s work. Businesses appear to be thriving and no one is in the grips of despair, except perhaps the pawnbroker who receives very little custom.

Whilst Hogarth deliberately makes the Beer Street lifestyle more appealing, it did not have an immediate effect on the people of London. Those gripped by addiction ignored his warnings and continued to seek out supplies. In 1836, gin consumption was still an issue, as Charles Dickens (1812-70) pointed out: “Gin-drinking is a great vice in England, but wretchedness and dirt are a greater; and until you improve the homes of the poor, or persuade a half-famished wretch not to seek relief in the temporary oblivion of his own misery, with the pittance that, divided among his family, would furnish a morsel of bread for each, gin-shops will increase in number and splendour.” Nonetheless, Hogarth’s prints started the slow progress of sobering up the people of London.

Hogarth: Place and Progress not only allowed visitors to the museum to see some of the best works of one of the greatest English painters and printers, but it also allowed us to discover life in London during the 1700s, particularly for the poor. History tends to focus on the victors, the rich and the important, therefore, the people at the bottom of the social scale tend to get erased. Hogarth, who grew up in a lower-middle-class family, thus experienced both ends of the scale, captured the truth, albeit slightly satirical, for posterity.

The art critic Brian Sewell declared in 2007 that “Hogarth saw it all and saw it straight, without Rowlandson’s gloss of puerile humour and without Gainsborough’s gloss of sentimentality.” This also says a lot about Hogarth’s personality. Having experienced debtors prison through his father, he sympathised with the poor, however, he tended to blame them for their vices and suggested it was their choices that controlled their future and not their financial positions. Meanwhile, Hogarth did not believe the upper classes were better than the lower. Often, he painted the rich as fat, selfish men, however, those who had worked their way up the ladder through virtuous behaviour were looked upon in a different light.

Hogarth was by no means a perfect gentleman, however, he made a name for himself and tried to provide for his wife Jane, the daughter of his former tutor Sir James Thornhill. Hogarth was initiated as a Freemason by 1728 and bought a house in Leicester Square, then known as Leicester Fields, and a country retreat in Chiswick. The latter is now known as Hogarth House and is preserved as a museum. Although Jane and Hogarth had no children of their own, they frequently fostered foundling children and helped to set up the Foundling Hospital in Hatton Garden.

Hogarth died in London on 26th October 1764 and was buried at St Nicholas Church in Chiswick. His greatness as a painter of “Modern Moral Subjects” was captured in an inscription on his tomb written by the actor David Garrick (1717-79):

Farewell great Painter of Mankind
Who reach’d the noblest point of Art
Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind
And through the Eye correct the Heart.

If Genius fire thee, Reader, stay,
If Nature touch thee, drop a Tear:
If neither move thee, turn away,
For Hogarth’s honour’d dust lies here.

Although the exhibition has now closed, it is still possible to see A Rake’s Progress and The Humours of an Election at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln Fields Inn, Holborn. Other places in London to view Hogarth’s work include Tate Britain, the National Gallery and the Foundling Museum.

The Self-Portraits of Lucian Freud

For the first time, Lucian Freud’s self-portraits have been united for one extraordinary exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. With a career spanning almost 70 years, the exhibition explores Freud’s development as a painter from his earliest portrait of 1939, to his final one painted 64 years later. Displayed in chronological order, the self-portraits create a visual timeline of Freud’s appearance, providing the perfect opportunity for the Royal Academy to discover the man behind the canvas.

lucianfreud-shaving

Lucian Shaving – David Dawson 2006

Lucian Michael Freud was born in Berlin on 8th December 1922. Initially, he grew up in Germany with his parents, Lucie and Ernst Freud (1892-1970) and his brothers Stephan and Clement. In 1933, the family fled to the United Kingdom to escape Nazi Germany and were later joined by Lucian’s famous paternal grandfather, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

The Freud family settled in St John’s Wood, London, however, the boys attended Dartington Hall School in Devon. Lucian later attended Bryanston School in Dorset, however, was expelled after a year due to disruptive behaviour. After this, Freud attended a few art colleges in London and was encouraged by his mother to display some of his artwork at an exhibition of children’s drawing at London’s Guggenheim Jeune Gallery in 1938.

From 1939 until 1942, Freud attended the Welsh painter Cedric Morris’ (1889-1982) East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing in Suffolk. Whilst there, Freud became determined to have a career as a painter and produced his first self-portrait. His art education was briefly disrupted when he was called up to serve as a merchant seaman in an Atlantic convoy, however, he was invalided out of service after a few months.

man-with-a-feather-1943

Man with a Feather, 1942

Freud destroyed many of his self-portraits but, fortunately, over 50 remain, including one of his early works Man with a Feather (1943). This was painted after finishing his art education, which concluded with a year at Goldsmith’s College in London. This painting was exhibited with a selection of Freud’s works at his first solo exhibition at Lefevre Gallery, London in 1944. The three-quarter length portrait shows Freud holding a white feather, which he had been given by his first serious girlfriend, Lorna Wishart (1911-2000). Incidentally, Freud went on to marry Lorna’s niece Kitty (d.2011), who was the daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959).

Comparing the early self-portraits with his later works, Freud was initially influenced by German Expressionism and occasionally surrealism. After the war, Freud developed a precise linear style using muted colours and elongated brushstrokes. His drawings were sharp and graphic, produced by a variety of ink, crayon and pencil.

Man with a Thistle (Self-portrait) is an example of Freud’s linear style painting. This particular self-portrait was produced during a five-month stay on the Greek island of Paros. The vertical and horizontal lines are severe and dominate the painting, whilst the image of himself is relegated to the background.

During the 1940s, Freud tended to prefer drawing over painting, therefore, the majority of his early self-portraits were produced in pencil and pen. Startled Man, for example, was drawn with conté crayon and pencil. The outcome looks similar to the result of etching, and the facial expression is not too dissimilar to the series of experimental self-portrait etchings by the Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606-69).

Other examples of Freud’s drawings include Man at Night and Self-Portrait as Actaeon. Both of these outcomes must have taken an exceedingly long time since the drawing is made up of tiny markings. Freud used dots and dashes to produce the tones, shadows and outlines, leaving the lighter areas blank. This works particularly well in Man at Night, which reveals the artist lit up from one side by an artificial light source.

Self-Portrait as Actaeon was originally intended as an illustration for a book of Greek myths. Unfortunately, the book was rejected by the publisher, however, the illustrations were later published in a magazine. Possibly inspired by Titian’s (1488-1576) Diana and Actaeon, which now hangs in the National Gallery in London, Freud depicted himself as Actaeon, a famous Theban hero, who was turned into a stag after accidentally coming across the goddess Diana bathing.

“People thought and said and wrote that my paintings were linear and defined by drawing. I’ve never been that affected by writing, but I thought if that’s all true, I must stop.”

Around the mid-1950s, Freud transitioned from drawing to painting and began to approach his artwork differently. For years, Freud used small canvases that he could fit on his lap, however, he began to find this rather restrictive and decided to paint at an easel instead. Whilst he continued to produce the occasional small painting, Freud started working on a much larger scale.

Since his return from Greece, Freud had made London his permanent home and was later characterised as a figurative painter in the “School of London”. Amongst this group of artists were R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007), Frank Auerbach (b.1931) and Francis Bacon (1909-92), the latter being a great influence on Freud. Bacon tended to use hog’s hair brushes, which allowed him to handle a heavier load of paint than Freud’s sable-hair brushes. After swapping to hog’s hair brushes, Freud’s style became vastly different from his earlier work. Whilst the handling of the paint created more texture on the canvas, the portraits were closer to reality than his flat, graphic versions.

When the focus was purely on the body, Freud used his new style of painting. The thicker brushes and paint helped him to concentrate on the texture and colour of flesh. Unlike his graphic drawing style that he eventually stopped using, Freud retained this new style for the rest of his life, as can be seen when comparing his work from the 1950s with a self-portrait painted in 1978. Self-Portrait with a Black Eye was painted immediately after an argument with a taxi driver that evidently turned physical. Intrigued by the changes in colour and shape caused by the bruising and swelling, Freud was keen to capture it on canvas.

Although he continued to use hog’s hair brushes for the rest of his artistic career, it was not the only style of painting Freud developed. During the 1960s, Freud experimented with watercolours, which resulted in a flatter colour than the thick oil paint. By using this medium, Freud retained a little of his earlier linearity but the colour washes reduced the harshness of the lines. Freud replicated this style in oil paint, particularly when there was more to a painting than human flesh. An example of this is Hotel Bedroom, which combines his old style with a softer brushstroke.

Hotel Bedroom includes a self-portrait of Freud who is standing behind a bed in which his wife is lying. This is not a portrait of Kitty, who Freud divorced in 1952, but his second wife Lady Caroline Blackwood (1931-96) who he married in 1953. Unfortunately, their marriage only lasted four years and a sense of estrangement can already be felt in this artwork, which was painted in 1954. Freud did not marry again after his second divorce, however, it is rumoured that he fathered as many as 40 children, however, only 14 have been officially identified as his – two from his first marriage and 12 by various mistresses.

Throughout his career, Freud painted portraits of other people, including his children. The first time his children appeared in his work, however, was at the bottom of a self-portrait, Reflection with Two Children. Rose and Ali are positioned in front of a gigantic mirror, producing a slightly surreal effect, since they do not have any reflection. The painting was inspired by a picture Freud had seen in a book, however, it also tells us a little about Freud’s painting process.

When creating self-portraits, Freud preferred to paint his likeness from mirrors rather than photographs. He often left mirrors lying at various angles in his studio in the hopes that it would produce an interesting perspective. For Reflection with Two Children, Freud placed the mirror directly on the floor and painted himself peering into it from above. Unlike his previous self-portraits, Freud included the mirror’s frame in the painting.

Freud may have taken inspiration from past painters who included mirrors in their work, for example, Velázquez (1599-1660) and Van Eyck (d.1441). For a while, Freud continued to include mirrors in his work, for example, Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening in which he included a small self-portrait behind an enormous houseplant. Freud also used a range of different sized mirrors of which Interior with Hand Mirror (Self-portrait) is an appropriate example. Slightly different from his usual style of work, the tiny reflection resembles Freud’s usual method of depicting flesh, however, the rest of the painting feels washed-out and rushed.

two-irishmen-in-w11-1985

Two Irish Men in W11, 1984/5

“My work is purely autobiographical. It’s about myself and my surroundings … I work from the people that interest me and that I care about and think about in rooms that I live and know.”

By the mid-60s, Freud was focused on full-length portraits, which continued to show his ability to convey the luminous texture of the human flesh. Many of these portraits were of nudes, including paintings of his children, which unsettled many viewers. Rather than portraying men and women in the tradition of Renaissance artists, Freud was brutally honest, revealing all parts of the human anatomy.

Not all Freud’s full-length portraits involved nudity, for instance, Two Irish Men in W11 in which the men are fully clothed. The unnamed men were painted in one of Freud’s London studios. Throughout his career, Freud had studios in Paddington, Notting Hill and Holland Park, which were decked out with battered sofas, bare walls and wooden floors. Some critics claim these downtrodden environments added to the psychology of Freud’s work, evidencing the influence of his grandfather.

Although the main focus of the portraits was on the sitter, Freud often managed to subtly include himself in the painting. Sometimes a glimpse of his reflection can be seen in a mirror or, in the case of Two Irish Men in W11, unfinished self-portraits sit on the floor against the wall. Oftentimes these glimpses go unnoticed unless pointed out.

Freud painted portraits of his friends and fellow artists, including Auerbach and Bacon. Sometimes the sitter was clothed and other times naked, often sprawled across a bed or on the floor. He did not seek out attractive models for his nudes but painted people of all shapes and sizes, including the very large Sue Tilley (b. 1957), nicknamed Big Sue. Despite going against conventional beauty, the painting sold for $33.6 million in 2008. His most frequent sitter was his friend David Dawson, however, he also painted a few well-known names, such as Kate Moss (b.1974) and the Queen (b.1926), the latter obviously fully clothed.

Freud painted his first nude self-portrait at the age of 70, using thick layers of paint to draw attention to his ageing body. It took him several months to complete and Freud was never completely happy with the result. “I couldn’t scrap it,” he said, “because I would be doing away with myself.”

As well as the full length nude, Freud continued to produce self-portraits, for example, close-ups of his head and shoulders. Again, he applied thick paint to the canvas to reveal the lines on his ageing face as well as the shadows caused by the artificial lighting in his studio.

Towards the end of his career, Freud rekindled his passion for lines by producing etchings, which he had briefly experimented with during the 1940s. Freud approached his etchings in a similar manner to painting, propping the copper plate upright on his easel. Over weeks and months, he etched into the metal, working heavily on the backgrounds to make it darker than the subject of the etching. Freud only produced one etched self-portrait, which shows up all the wrinkles and imperfections of his 74-year-old face. Due to the overworking of the stylus on the metal plate, the final print is rather dark, almost as if the elderly man is fading into the background.

In 1996, 27 of Freud’s paintings and 13 etchings were displayed at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria. This was a particularly major exhibition for the artist and it was followed by an exhibition of his early works at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In 2002, Tate Britain held a large retrospective of Freud’s work, however, it has taken until 2019, eight years after Freud’s death, for the first exhibition of his self-portraits to be held.

Lucian Freud died on 20th July 2011 and was buried by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (b.1950), at Highgate Cemetry. Freud was an extremely private man, which is why the majority of his paintings are of friends and family. No doubt the number of self-portraits indicate Freud prefered his own company to others. His self-portraits reveal his change in artistic techniques but also provide an insight into his psyche. Never smiling, it is possible Freud did not like what he saw, suggesting he did not have the greatest relationship with himself. The fact he destroyed many of his self-portraits is also indicative of this.

Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits does not contain any “wow-factor” paintings, however, it allows visitors to learn and understand the painter, who until now has just been a well-known name. Living in the shadow of his grandfather, Freud made a name for himself as a painter, shocking people with nudity and unpolished human flesh, and yet, we learn he was a private individual, vastly contrasting with the opinions of the public and critics.

Lucian Freud: The Self-portraits is open at the Royal Academy of Arts until 26th January 2020. Tickets are £18 and it is advisable to book a timed entry in advance. Although under 16s can visit for free, some paintings are unsuitable for young visitors.