HOGARTH AND EUROPE AT THE TATE GALLERY
Having lived in the leaf spun London suburb of Acton throughout the larger part of my youth, I was, at a relatively young age, fortunate to have been presented with an opportunity to explore the glorious walled plantations of ‘Chiswick House Park’, a patchwork of ‘Conifers’, ‘Rhododendrons’, ‘Grottoes’, ‘Statues’ and ‘Glass Houses’ which, in extending forth through dense shades of evergreen profusion between ‘Turnham Green’ and the shores of the ‘Thames’ was, if records pertaining to the theme are correct, once noted to have been part of a far larger garden reserved for the cultivation of exotic shrubs imported into England from India by the Horticultural Society.
Significantly reduced in size during the latter years of the nineteenth century through association with the expansion of the rail system and the quota of terraced accommodation which it was, with regards to the present dimensions of the capital, observed to herald, ‘Chiswick House Park’, was, in terms of the exploratory pursuits that had found occasion to flavor my youth, nonetheless perceived to retain many of the initiatives which had once gone into it’s conception, being perhaps the prettiest example of it’s type to be found in South West London, a premium beneath which it’s verdure is currently witnessed to extend forth from the marvelous ‘Palladian’ temple at it’s Southern extreme in a labyrinth of meandering impasses and follies like a trail of breadcrumbs scattered through a particularly sober Scottish fairy tale of the variety that may once have been told by ‘Angela Carter’.
Having found occasion to survey the park’s grounds, taking opportunity to ride it’s lions and square up to it’s nudes as I wove passage forth among the myriad pathways which laced it’s extent, I was, as invariably tends to be the case with regards to such matters, inevitably drawn to extend the scope of my investigation in efforts to gauge the true extent of the garden’s parameter, discovering as I did so, that there was a house which was reputed to have been occupied by the celebrated eighteenth century artist ‘William Hogarth’ situated at it’s Northeast extreme, a quaint building that, in being adorned with a precarious wooden bay window overlooking a small garden distinguished by the slow maturation of a ‘Mulberry Tree’, was noted to contain a number of delicately drafted pictures describing life in early Georgian England within it’s precinct.
Situated between the marvelous ‘Fuller’s Griffin Brewery’ and the imposing colonnade of the eponymous ‘Hogarth Lane’ flyover upon the banks of the Thames, ‘Hogarth’s House’ was, with regards to my understanding of it’s immediate predicament, noted to have been built in the early eighteenth century, being occupied and substantially extended by ‘William Hogarth’ slightly later during the reign of George the First, a period in which the artist would have been associated with the festivities then being staged at ‘Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens’ further upriver, painting images of it’s illuminated parades, pavilions, grottoes, sculptures, gymnasts, conjurers, musicians and prostitutes as he strove to make a name for himself as a draftsman, a pretext beneath which ‘Hogarth’ was ultimately to succeed in achieving a reputation as a satirist adept at describing the event of human corruption despite the futility of it’s pretense amidst the ‘Pelisse’ coated frivolities of Georgian masquerades.
Noted to have been occupied by the redoubtable literary couple ‘Leonard and Virginia Woolf’ in the early twentieth century, ‘Hogarth’s House’ was again extended to accommodate a modern print press upon it’s grounds, a pretext beneath which both a number of ‘Virginia Woolf’s’ books and many of ‘Hogarth’s’ old etchings were reproduced before the investigative scrutiny of the general public, thereby revivifying the artist’s reputation as the leading satirist of his era and drawing attention to the historical pertinence of many of his works.
Through association with my interest in such things I was, upon scanning the internet for upcoming events in London, delighted to discover that the Tate Gallery in ‘Pimlico’ was, by way of correspondence with it’s annual gauntlet of seasonal displays, presently in the process of staging a major review of ‘William Hogarth’s’ work, an exhibition which, in including sixty works of art, many of which have not been seen in Britain for at least a century within it’s compass, promised to present the definitive account of the artist’s impact upon the curious alloy of decadence and pathos which served to distinguish the early Hanoverian reign.
Promptly telephoning a friend who, in sharing a fascination in ‘Hogarth’ with me, thoughtfully booked two tickets for the venue, I duly set out to investigate it’s realm of incident, laboriously tracing passage forth towards ‘Vauxhall’ along a Network South East line as the winter sun filtered delicately down through the brittle air about my head, a route which, in granting me an opportunity to survey the curiously resilient foliage of an unduly late Summer that lay resisting seasonal decline in salmon pinks and thin golds en route, inexplicably caused me to dwell upon the stark fragility of the Alpine scenery that is occasionally captured in the pages of the ‘National Geographic’ magazine with ‘Zeiss’ cameras.
Swiftly disembarking upon reaching my destination, I noticed, glancing down at my calendar, that it was November the Fifth, an opportune date for me to make a brisk detour through the small patch of urban greenery that was once ‘Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens’ to sample a cup of English Breakfast tea at the marvelously anachronistic Wodehousian ‘Tea House Theater’ situated at the far end of the park before continuing forth upon my way.
Gazing languidly out across the date palms and exotic shrubs which had circumstantially been planted in front of the tea house, I was, with regards to my observation about the peculiar date to which my diversion circumscribed, incidentally drawn to remember that the gardens were, although presently perceived to be particularly unimpressive being surrounded by both high rise blocks and various appendices to London’s rail service, nonetheless renowned, throughout the hiatus of their activity, for having been owned by the widow of ‘Guy Fawkes’, a pretext beneath which the fireworks displays that were then held upon the premises may, within reason, once be presumed to have impressed both ‘William Hogarth’ and his contemporaries as the nights drew close and people were observed to need a little company.
Crossing over the river after having finished my cup of tea, I promptly made forth towards the entrance portico of the Tate and, after having waited for about twenty minutes watching a photographer take snapshots of a fashion model dressed in a rather brief sequined dress who happened to be present upon the site as I arrived, duly met with my friend and entered the gallery.
Entitled ‘Hogarth And Europe’, a pretext beneath which it hoped to draw some correspondence between the draftsman and the contemporary climate of European art in which he existed, the Tate’s exhibition was observed to feature a diverse selection of the pictures painted by ‘Hogarth’ throughout his life alongside an assortment of works finished by a number of ‘Flemish’, ‘Venetian’ and ‘Parisian’ painters at approximately the same time, an instance in which the gallery was inclined to note that the exchange of artistic ideas was fairly commonplace during the early eighteenth century, similar themes and stylistic flourishes recurring across the board in most European countries.
Citing the work of the Dutch painter ‘Cornelis Troost’, the French artist ‘Ettiene Jeaurat’ and the French sculptor ‘Louis Francois Roubiliac’ to have been coincidental with ‘Hogarth’s’ rise to prominence, a pretense beneath which the exhibition was noted to draw attention to the many similarities which may be observed to have occurred in the artistic conventions of the era, the Tate effectively succeeded in describing a cell of like minded people that, irrespective of their nationality were engaged in the pursuit of a common objective, the creation of perfect or near perfect art.
Taking a step back from the self portrait of ‘Cornelis Troost’, I could, with respect to such an observation, not help feeling that there was something of the Japanese attitude towards post graduate art invested in many of the gallery’s observations, an instance in which Tokyo’s academic system was, in being observed to demarcate each successive generation of draftsmen that it found occasion to produce into a series of closely interwoven year groups in efforts to render the categorization of such things efficient, disinclined to stray far from the diagnostic formula that it was conclusively witnessed to set for itself.
Such things were filled with harmlessly eclectic idiosyncrasies and petty novelties that, in being lost upon those unenlightened with the methodology invested in defining their specific, appeared to suit the rarefied climate of academic criticism to which they were observed to circumscribe.
Interestingly ‘Hogarth’s’ circle of friends was, with regards to the confinement of his work in such a manner, observed by the Tate gallery, to stray beyond the conventional canon of contemporary artists and craftsmen traditionally associated with such things to include ‘Sir Francis Dashwood’ the founder of the infamous ‘Hellfire Club’ in ‘West Wycombe’, the celebrated actor manager ‘David Garrick’ and ‘John Hervey the Second Baron of Ickworth’ within it’s compass, an instance in which it may well be imagined that the artist’s sphere of interest was somewhat more diverse than would immediately be presumed, extending province to embrace the intimations of Satanism, stage craft and blood transfusion as potential sources of inspiration within it’s repertoire.
Whether or not there is any truth in the realm of diversity to which ‘Hogarth’s’ work could, beneath the guiding influence of such a redoubtable coven of individuals, once be believed to have circumscribed, it’s figurative detail is seldom perceived to stray far from the parlor games and nocturnal exchanges of what would, at the time, have been the gentle equilibrium espoused by Georgian society, an observation which, in effectively representing the only evidence of what ‘may have been’ at the Tate’s disposal, must, for want of an alternative, simply be accepted as truth.
Upon studying a little of the history associated with the period to which the artist’s work ascribed, it seemed that the diverse character of the English Civil War was largely responsible for much of the cultural cross fertilization which was witnessed to have occurred during the ‘Hogarth’s’ lifetime, an instance in which Parliament was, in being honor bound to confine a fair percentage of the narcotic traffic that was then observed to filter through Europe to the distillation of Gin, perceived to inadvertently contextualize it’s constituency’s fun, lending impetus to pictures like ‘Beer Street’, ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘A Midnight’s Modern Conversation’ in a commonly appreciable sense.
The opium pipes and snuff boxes which served to distinguish ‘Hogarth’s’ earlier pictures were, by this measure, noted to be replaced by the punch bowls, ale tankards and general sense of wretchedness which typified the excessive alcohol consumption depicted in his later work.
The ‘Tories’ and ‘Whigs’ had institutionalized the dark freight of such figures as ‘Ignatius Sancho’, and ‘Pastor Jacobus Elisa Capitein’ men known among artistic circles to be English slaves, and there was a market for sign makers and printers willing to pledge allegiance to the new liquid currency of pot stilled Gin.
It seemed that the axis of the government’s argument in this instance had been the sheer insanity towards which drug usage was prone rather than a direct ban, the traffic of narcotics across the extent of Europe from India and Africa being observed to have been far too popular to directly countermand during the artist’s lifetime, an instance in which commodities like ‘Cannabis’ oil from ‘Tangiers’ were contrarily observed to have questioned the efficacy of alcohol consumption as a recreational pursuit rather than embraced it as a staple.
The marked similarity between a mural depicting ‘Jesus At The Pool Of Bethseda’ which ‘Hogarth’ was commissioned to paint for ‘St. Bartholomew’s Hospital’ in London and the last part of his classic octet the ‘Rakes Progress’, was, in this respect, noted to imply the shifting attitude towards how far the human mind could be taxed before it began to fall apart within popular culture, an instance in which the dull nausea associated with alcohol consumption was, despite the appreciably damnable pretext of both ‘Beer Street’ and ‘Gin Lane’, effectively perceived to retain the presence of mind to presume abstinence where recourse to harder exotica was not.
It was interesting to note, in this case that the ‘Moll Hackabout’ character described in ‘Gin Lane’ was, judging from ‘the grains of paradise’ in the snuff box that she is holding, clearly not in the process of imbibing spirit despite the dubious connotations that may be drawn from the picture’s title.
It had seemed, in effect, that ‘Hogarth’ was, in his wisdom, pioneering a new conservative attitude towards how such things should be viewed in the hope of establishing a greater degree of civil decorum within working life and atoning for the incident of abandonment to which it’s prior incarnation had ascribed.
It was an easy enough mistake to make with regards to the topic of art criticism among the college post graduate communities of the Georgian world, an instance in which ‘Fish Berries’ and ‘Afromomum Meleagueta’ flowed like water through ‘Franco-English’ veins before the logic invested in their own economy was observed to grind into motion.
Hogarth had, through coincidence with such an observation, found occasion to produce a number of composite artistic series constituted from more than one picture during the course of his career, an instance in which ‘The Rakes Progress’ a collection of eight paintings respectively called ‘The Heir’, ‘The Levee’, ‘The Orgy’, ‘The Arrest’, ‘The Marriage’, ‘The Gaming House’, ‘The Prison’, and ‘The Madhouse’, was perhaps the most famous, although the sextets ‘Marriage A La Mode’ and ‘The Harlot’s Progress’ were, upon close inspection perceived to be equally interesting.
The common theme running through such epics appeared, in this respect, to be the tragicomic predicament represented by the lapse in standards which may be fatalistically circumstanced by an otherwise respectable assortment of promising youths, a process of cumulative misadventure that, in bearing witness to irony, was perceived to betray an element of satire which, in due course, served to reflect upon what it was that may be imagined to have inspired those who were ordained to attend it’s plight, a pretext beneath which ‘Hogarth’ was, in being a natural heir to the liquid ruminations of the Italian renaissance, not only branded a satirist, but also inadvertently credited with pioneering the acceptability of satire as a genre across the breadth of Europe, sanctioning the creation of an unprecedented number of derivative works of art which would, to all intents and purposes, not have been drafted without him.
Whether or not I actually agree with such an appraisal of ‘Hogarth’s’ attitude towards his craft, the artist’s multi staged cartoons were, in paying homage to the general format of many of the religious fabliaux which were noted to typify the era preceding his lifetime, in fact observed to be fairly tame with regards to their satirical connotations, an instance in which the comedy of manners represented by the contemporary European culture to which they circumscribed, was, in many instances, simply perceived to relieve the traditional gauntlet of death and damnation that had hitherto been associated with the episcopal canon.
Perhaps it was due to the artist’s studied passivity in this respect that his association with satire was witnessed to manifest, an instance in which it seemed that many people devoted towards the criticism of the clerical arts may, in finding that they had less to chew on than they would otherwise have liked, have felt the need to invent a viable excuse to justify their spleen and call the trade of indictment which was noted to arise in the wake of any conjecture devoted towards such matters fair.
Both ‘Hogarth’ and Parliament were, in this sense, and with regards to the Tate’s exhibition, observed to constitute a rare tincture of European aspiration disinclined to dwell too heavily upon the self defeating apocalyptic brutalities and torments of the soul that were witnessed to typify orthodox religion, a decision which, in appearing peculiarly decadent after having born witness to dispute, was by default, paradoxically noted to redefine the axis of criticism more than it ever did it’s meat.
Running until the 20th March 2022, ‘The Tate’s’ current foray into the world of eighteenth century art provides an intriguing insight into the birth pangs of what would later become the constitutional apparel of the present English government, a fragile and preternaturally incestuous predicament, that in managing to soften it’s manner to pleasing effect upon the turning of the tide, was observed to rest, much as the Houses of Parliament themselves may be perceived to rest amidst the, trellises, gantries and bird cage walks of a Scottish penal system which actively sought to limit it’s gift for indiscretion.
Taking such an observation into respect, the body of work which ‘William Hogarth’ found occasion to produce throughout his life time, remains, in a peculiarly merciful and ambivalent sense, perhaps one of the finest descriptions of the cultural state of grace which Parliament managed to wring from it’s defeat after it’s lot had been called presently on display, an instance in which the detail that the draftsman was observed to invest in items of clothing, architectural novelty and ornamental memorabilia proves, in the manner of all good art, uniquely adept at transporting the ruminations of anyone who sees it back towards the era of it’s creation.
Being perhaps the most comprehensive collection of ‘Hogarth’s’ pictures that one may, in coming years, find occasion to see, The Tate’s exhibition comes highly recommended and represents an ideal venue to attend with a friend willing to share in a commiserative drink somewhere within the immediate vicinity of the gallery after having investigated it’s horde.