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Hogarth and Europe, Tate Britain: Review

Children love a picture that tells a story and Hogarth's do that in spades. This is definitely NOT a exhibition for younger kids: the fates of Hogarth's celebrated Harlot and Rake are not pretty ones, but for a teen interested in history as much as art, it is gripping.

The show presents Hogarth in the context of his European contemporaries and their portraits of the other great cities of 18th century Europe: Paris, Venice and Amsterdam. But it is from Hogarth's canvases that city life, in all its vibrant colour and squalid degradation, leaps out. Today's London teens will enjoy the extravaganza that was Southwark Fair (above, an annual event until it was closed down in 1762 because of the 'vice and disturbance'), though may be hard pushed to identify Tottenham Court Road in the scenes of army excess in The March of the Guards to Finchley.

As chronicles of moral decay, The Harlot's Progress (six etchings, the paintings were lost in a fire), The Rake's Progress (eight paintings, Orgies, pictured above) and Marriage a la Mode (six paintings) are powerful narratives. Sex trafficking, gambling, financial ruin and mental breakdown are not specific eighteenth century issues and there is humour and pathos as well as savagery in the satire.

The depictions of 'boys' night out' excess, though not always as extreme as Francis Schultz's hangover (detail pictured below), will also find parallels today.

The exhibition includes commentary on individual paintings from a panel of commentators. As an adult, some of the overt signposting (lest we had failed to notice the colonial nature of 18th century Europe) is somewhat patronising but it works well as a framework for discussion with kids.

In addition to the tableaux, there are some wonderful portraits. Hogarth's sisters, his servants and above all his patron, Mary Edwards. This glorious painting of an extraordinary woman is on loan from the Frick. Ahead of her time, her intelligent independence will shine out across the centuries to today's young feminists.

Hogarth and Europe, Tate Britain, 3 November–20 March 2022

Tickets: £18 adults, £5 ages 12–18

Click here to book.

Emily Turner

3 November, 2021


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