Wednesday 30 October 2019

Trip - Hogarth: Place and Progress at Sir John Soane's Museum

‘Hogarth: Place and Progress’ is an exhibition running at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn fields. It’s done well for them, with queues running down the street and timed tickets being picked up in hours. In some ways, the exhibition isn’t offering much, half the paintings are available during a normal visit to the museum and the other half can usually be seen at the National Gallery. It’s not so much what’s on display, but how it’s displayed.

For the first time in my memory, the pictures are at face height. You can get right up to them, peer them in the eyes, read the writing on the various pieces of paper littering the mis-en-scene and catch details you may have heard about but never seen.

There’s a real thrill at getting so close to them and that makes it utterly worthwhile grabbing a (free) ticket for. I saw the tiny details, like a pair of glasses hanging up to suggest the main character’s short-sightedness. Now I can see that music being played in one scene is about the rape of the Sabines (‘Sobbin’ Women) and in the background there’s a woman needlessly setting fire to a world map.

Some of the details are really peculiar, there’s an old woman in the first ‘Rake’s Progress’. She stands by the fireplace but the fireplace can still be seen through her. Is she a second thought? Unfinished? I never knew that the ‘Rake’s Progress’ scene in the gambling house includes a failed attempt at making Icarus wings. Nor did I realise that the gambling den is being burnt down - it’s amazing to catch these peculiar moments in the paintings.

Something I’d never seen before were the aborted attempts at creating woodcuts of the ‘Stages of Cruelty’. There’s something brilliantly stark about the harder lines and I wish they’d completed the sequence.

I am appallingly bad at analysing pictures, there’s not much I can say about the exhibition except to say that’s it’s a wonderfully unique and enjoyable experience and I urge anyone to go.

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