Some time ago, over dinner, conversations floated towards art and how come I have all these paintings etched in my memory, ready to draw parallels and connections to at any given moment (and sometimes when least expecting it)? The answer was…as always…it’s complicated.
Whilst regretfully not having nurtured any artistic inclinations, art has always played a great importance in my life. It’s possibly one of the reasons my curiousity was drawn to that of the esoteric and mystique. I would look at a panting in one of many volumes we had from medieval paintings to contemporary, and I wanted to understand the story behind it.
Rewind a day or two before my dinner, and I come across, what at first seemed like a documentary, but later I understood was an adaptation of a series of 6 paintings aptly named A Harlot’s Progress. Mixing sound bites of current police investigations, it documented the life and descent of a young woman arriving in London, with little more than her beauty and virginity. Both are exploited by a Madame running one of many houses of vice in the English capital.
As I am watching the production, about Ms Hackabout (the young woman), Mr and Mrs Hogarth (the painter and his wife), I am struck by the similarities to prints I was familiar with since youth. Beer Street and perhaps the more infamous, Gin Lane. The latter became a political debate in the Houses of Parliament which led to the Gin Act of 1736. Although these prints are not referred to in the production (not sure whether to call it a film or a documentary, it lands somewhere in between), the similarities in social criticism are undoubtedly striking.
With knowledge now only a keystroke away, I type a few key words and come to the fast conclusion that it is indeed the same artist. Mr William Hogarth was something of a Dickens of his time, albeit with a brush rather than a quill pen in his firm grip.
The paintings of a Harlot’s progress are long gone, but the prints remains and made Mr Hogarth a small fortune. In fact some of the original prints are still for sale and I make a mental note to see if I can purchase them. Or perhaps they would make a nice Christmas present. Whatever list they will end up on, I do urge you to watch A Harlot’s Progress. And perhaps like me, you will consider that Hogarth used Progress rather than Descent in the title. I like to believe for the reason of affording the woman the dignity she was denied most of her life.
And if you are interested in this, I’d also recommend a series on highwaymen and other rogues in 18th century England. Enjoy!
quarrels with her protector