It’s likely that few other people would tag this post as ‘longitude tourism’, but it was a momentous day for me on Sunday when I visited William Hogarth’s House in Chiswick, south London. This re-opened in November 2011 after a £400,000 redevelopment and refurbishment project which restored the structure to it’s former glory and has put in place a number of outreach and learning projects. After a checkered history, including neglect and bomb damage, the house is once again shining.
Anyone to whom I have talked about my PhD over the last year will know that my project is based around the final plate from Hogarth’s A Rake's Progress in which an inmate of Bedlam tries to solve the longitude problem on the madhouse wall. I have therefore spent rather a lot of time on Hogarth recently who is on the way to becoming my hero. It was, consequently, a treat to see ‘my’ print on show at Hogarth’s House, alongside the rest of the Rake's Progress, a complete set of A Harlot's Progress, and The Four Stages of Cruelty.
Hogarth’s House suffers from the problem of many house museums in being an interesting historic building linked to an iconic figure, but with little original material from the house to display. The William Hogarth Trust have, however, collected an impressive range of objects to evoke Hogarth. The prints are joined by a copy of his theoretical text The Analysis of Beauty, an original engraving plate and his engraving tools, his official appointment document as Sergeant Painter to the King, and reproduction portraits; but also by careful replica furniture, period china and glassware, and finds from the house itself during the refurbishment. The domestic role of different areas is highlighted by appropriate cut-out figures from his engravings. It’s fun spotting ‘who’s who’! A small cupboard in one room houses child-size replicas of the clothes worn by Hogarth in a self-portrait, just one of the new elements to encourage family engagement.
Hogarth’s House is a simple but effective treatment of Hogarth as an artist and as an eighteenth-century man. My visit was rounded off by a visit to the nearby St. Nicholas Churchyard where Hogarth is buried, a peaceful English spot in the spring sunshine. He is immortalised by an epitaph from his friend the actor David Garrick as ‘great Painter of mankind … Whose pictur’d morals charm the mind.’ It is a shame that the house and churchyard are now separated by the busy cacophony of the Hogarth roundabout, but I feel this is a metropolitan contrast, and a modern urban tribute, of which Hogarth would have eminently approved.