London: Hogarth’s House

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I know I’ve dramatically slowed my output on here in the past month or so, which was for a number of reasons (back home visiting family, stressing out over getting a visa application together, and sheer laziness), but now that I’m back in London and all the visa stuff is behind me (permanent settlement, woot!),  I’ll hopefully be getting out a bit more in future (although it is winter, and cold(ish) weather also makes me disinclined to leave my flat, so we’ll see).  At any rate, I ventured to Chiswick last week to see Hogarth’s House, which is a free museum, despite the website indicating otherwise.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with William Hogarth, well, why the hell not, he was awesome!  But seriously, Hogarth was a Georgian painter/printmaker/cartoonist who was most famous for his satirical depictions of 18th century life, including Gin Lane and A Rake’s Progress, which are pictured below, and he’s up there on my list of favourite Georgians (as in the era, not the country, obviously).

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(Gin Lane and first plate of A Rake’s Progress, which I confess I picked because the “rake” is still cute and not a dissipated syphilitic yet.)

I guess I should have visited Hogarth’s House before now, but Chiswick is a nightmare to get to from Wimbledon on the Tube (there really needs to be a way to get there on public transport without backtracking towards Central), so I had to wait until I could talk my boyfriend into driving us there (helped along by the promise of some bakery from Outsider Tart, verdict: Snickers blondies=delicious, but their brownies are far too coffeeish for my tastes.  I don’t care what anybody says, adding coffee to chocolate things doesn’t enhance the flavour of the chocolate, it just makes it taste like coffee, which I hate.  Also, what’s with the hipster aversion to signs?  Throwing some labels on your pastries would save your staff from having to explain (with a sigh) what each item is to every customer that comes in.  I’d still go back and try more stuff though).

Although Hogarth’s house was originally situated in bucolic countryside, it’s now next to an extremely busy eponymous roundabout and the A4, and the constant sound of rushing traffic makes it strangely much less atmospheric than historic homes actually in Central London, which at least have the advantage of narrower streets and other similarly aged buildings surrounding them.  This also means that parking is a fair walk away.  Braving these hazards, we managed to make our way down to the museum, which at least still has a garden with a withered, gnarly old mulberry tree (fact: the Hogarths used to make mulberry pie for the orphans who came to stay with them, which must mean that mulberries aren’t poisonous, unless they were running one of those Victorian “wetnurse as a cover for infanticide” scams).

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The interior of Hogarth’s House is not really “preserved” in the sense that most historic homes are, as in with period furnishings designed to mirror the original contents.  Rather, I believe the general layout of the house is the same, but the rooms are pretty bare, save for a few small cases with personal items, and of course,  Hogarth’s prints hanging on the walls.  There’s a downstairs room with a few computers chucked in the back, and a nook with a pottery display (as seen above), but the bulk of the collection is upstairs.

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The house was surprisingly crowded for such a small museum (there were probably only about ten other people there, but in rooms this size, it made it difficult to navigate around) – I never anticipated Hogarth would be such a big draw of a late Sunday afternoon.  Still, unlike my recent experience in the British Museum (the subject of a future post), I was definitely able to see and enjoy everything.  They had copies of all of Hogarth’s major works; in addition to the two pieces mentioned above, they had Marriage a la Mode, A Harlot’s Progress, Beer Street (the lesser known counterpart to Gin Lane), and The Distrest Poet (which I’m rather partial to, having written an essay about it for my MA.  The original included a piss-take of Alexander Pope).  It was nice being able to look at them in a format big enough that I could actually read Hogarth’s text underneath, though it’s a shame that most of the paintings they had were portraits; the original paintings that he based his etchings on are distributed among other collections, including John Soane’s House and the National Gallery.

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(The Distrest Poet and The Enraged Musician, two of my favourites.  Those are the same faces I pull when someone interrupts me while I’m writing.)

Other objects of note upstairs were some portraits Hogarth did of his sisters, one of his original engraving plates (very cool), as well as the tools he use to etch the design, a few random items of clothing, and a few pug statues and things to represent his beloved dog (who didn’t look like the modern breed of pug, but had a larger body and a less extreme shortened snout, in other words, he was cuter (the dog, that is, I still can’t decide whether Hogarth was attractive or not.  I’m thinking on the rare occasions when he actually bothered to wear his wig, he managed to clean up nicely.  And by clean up, I probably mean he changed his shirt, maybe threw on a bit of powder. Doubt he would have actually bathed)).

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We visited on the last day of the “Hogarth House Christmas,” which basically meant that there were some festive garlands on the fireplaces, and a room had been set aside to the history of Christmas in England.  It was just a series of posters on how Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas Tree and the Yule Log, had come to be.  There was also a small tree decorated with vintage ornaments, which I would love to have.  The room itself was pretty spartan in decoration, however, so didn’t feel terribly Christmassy (what’s with British people skimping on the decorations?  At least get a big tree for the corner or something, since lights are clearly a bridge too far). The gift shop had some postcards, though bizarrely, none of Gin Lane, so I had to settle for The Enraged Musician (not really settling, because I love it).

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(The happy prosperity of Beer Street and the third plate of A Harlot’s Progress wherein she finds herself in slightly reduced circumstances, but the worst is yet to come).

Overall, while I was glad of the opportunity to peruse many of Hogarth’s prints, and some of his personal possessions, ultimately, I felt like there wasn’t enough of Hogarth in the house.  The house seemed torn between being a museum and an historic home, and thus didn’t really succeed at either.  I guess I wanted to know more about the personality of the man behind the paintings, and although they briefly mentioned his marriage, his father’s stint in debtor’s prison, and how he and his wife took in children from the Foundling Hospital, we never heard much about his family, or friends, or interests.  I’m not saying they had to go into prurient detail, but it seemed odd that the home of a man whose work seemed to invite controversy was so sterile.  Honestly, they had more information on later owners of the home, who I’d never heard of and didn’t care about, than Hogarth himself.  What gives?

I’m glad they’ve preserved his house, but I can see a lot of room for improvement.  2/5.

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(Plate 2 of Marriage a la Mode, and the marriage already isn’t working out, and the man himself – self portrait of William Hogarth on one of the rare times he bothered to wig up.  All prints and paintings taken from Wikimedia Commons.)

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