Hogarth at Soane’s Museum

The flight took off late because some passengers didn’t board so their luggage had to be found and removed, and then we needed to spray de-icing stuff. Landed at 10:45 instead of 10:10.

Passport control is automated and I didn’t have the 1 1/4 hour wait like last year. I pre-purchase Heathrow Express tickets and used my credit card on the tube; I was at my hotel near Trafalgar Square by 12:15.

They gave me a free upgrade so I have way more space than I need.

Too bad about the Mick Jaggar photo
View from the window

Since I had the afternoon without any plans, I went to the Sir John Soane Museum, a 20 minute walk away.

The museum is located across from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, near the Royal Courts of Justice and the Inns of Court.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields
Back side of the Royal Courts of Justice

John Soane was an English architect in the late 18th to early 19th century. His designs included the Bank of England, although much of that has been re-done.

But he is more famous for his collecting. He must have had a lot of money because he collected a lot of stuff. His interests were pretty wide ranging as he collected art starting from ancient Egypt and all the following centuries including contemporary works. Architecture features in his collections—drawings and bits of ancient buildings. He has reproductions of some famous Italian statuary like the Apollo Belvedere, the Laacoon And Giambologna’s Mercury, but also original Canalettos, Fuselli, Turner, and Piranesi. He kept them all in his house and through his will donated his collections to the nation with the stipulation that they be kept and displayed in his house.

His house, which is made up of three separate buildings, is a marvel of multiple levels, corridors, and interior spaces. Too bad no photos are allowed because the exterior neo-classical facade gives no hint of the maze-like complex inside.

The below is a screenshot from the museum’s website.

The numbers of people entering is controlled through the ticketing system, which is free, but keeping numbers limited is necessary to permit people to move about to see what is on display. One of the more ingenious designs are movable walls or door-like planes where pictures are hung to display three times the number of items than if it was a fixed wall.

The current special exhibition is of the paintings and engravings of William Hogarth, who was a friend of Soane’s. Soane also collected another contemporary artist, JWM Turner.

Hogarth (1697–1764) was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist. Sir John Soane’s Museum has brought together all of Hogarth’s visual narratives in one place, among them The Harlot’s Progress, The Rake’s Progress and The Four Stages of Cruelty. On loan from the National Gallery is Marriage a la Mode.

The series are biting critical commentary on 18th century Britain.

The opening scene of Hogarth’s first picture story, the Harlot’s Progress, strips away all illusions about what his contemporary Daniel Defoe called “the Monster City”. A young woman has just got off a wagon full of country girls like her, and come to the metropolis to seek her fortune. She’s being greeted by a brothel madam while a sleazy gent watches from a doorway. A goose with its neck wrung foretells her fate.

The paintings were destroyed in a fire but Hogarth also made engravings and sold prints. An interesting side note, the prints were so popular, pirate copies were being sold. Hogarth got an act passed in Parliament to prohibit the practice.

The Harlot’s Progress is shown in parallel with the paintings of The Rake’s Progress, his second series, created two years later in 1734. The fates of these two 1730s Londoners play out in uneasy parallel. The Rake boozes in a brothel; the sex worker gets arrested in a seedy boudoir. She dies young but the rich-born Rake fares no better, ending up insane in Bedlam.

Another series, Marriage A-la-Mode, shows a marriage of a bankrupt aristocrat’s son with a wealthy merchant’s daughter. Affairs and syphilis are depicted in the following paintings. The husband is killed by the wife’s lover, and in the final scene, the city merchant removes the valuable wedding ring from his daughter’s finger as she is dying from poisoning; the infant shows signs of syphilis.

The Guardian’s art critic commented that “This exhibition proves Hogarth created a human epic about the life of a great city with few equals in world culture”.

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