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:
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.
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.”
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”
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.”
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.”
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.”‘
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“Thou shalt do no unrighteousness in Judgement.”
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.”
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.”
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.