Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
From corrupted country girls and rough sleepers to sleazy judges and drunken toffs, no one has captured London’s dark underbelly better than Hogarth
The rough sleepers in William Hogarth’s painting The Four Times of Day: Night huddle under a wooden stall on St Martin’s Lane while a drunk staggers by without seeing them and a man gets a midnight shave in a candlelit barber’s shop. It’s a shock to see all Hogarth’s visual narratives of London in one place and realise how insistently he portrays inequality. There is barely a picture here that doesn’t include paupers, beggars or street children. A shoeless boy watches as a spendthrift gentleman is arrested for debt in Scene Four of The Rake’s Progress: a troubling detail that reminds us the Rake was born lucky, in a London teeming with people who never had his chances to waste. In the next scene, a ragged child clings to the silk skirt of an old widow who the Rake is marrying for her fortune. Most horribly of all, in Scene Three of Marriage A-la-Mode, a paedophile aristocrat takes a child who has been trafficked for s*x to the pox doctor.
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. These raw stories of London life join together here, as never before, to make one great epic of laughter and squalor. Call it London: the Graphic Novel. It will break your heart.