London and Hogarth

· culture ·

Last Saturday, we went to London to catch a couple of exhibitions: Hogarth at Tate Britain, and Originals 07: The Contemporary Printmaking Show at the Mall Galleries. Both were really excellent, but the Hogarth prints and paintings had a particular impact on me.

We watched a drama last year about Hogarth and his creation of 'The Harlot's Progress' series of prints, and it was fascinating to see the works themselves. He captures people's characters beautifully, and tells very complex and subtle stories in a compact space. Some are hilarious, but most are very moving, particularly The Harlot's Progress. It's harder to empathise with 'The Rake' in 'The Rake's Progress', but even there, his spurned and good-hearted sweetheart still tugs at your heartstrings. He makes the frightening ease with which people could (and still can) slip into destitution and ruin strikingly evident.

There's also a large painting commissioned by one of the homes for orphaned children in London. The little boy being handed over to the benefactor is tightly gripping the skirts of his nurse with his tiny fist, while she weeps and looks away. The boy has such a look of fear and desolation on his face to be leaving the person he considers to be his mother, that it brought quite a lump to my throat. On the other hand, there's a brilliantly funny portrait of a man the morning after a heavy night. He's obviously had one too many glasses of wine, and is sitting on the edge of the bed in his night-shirt, vomiting into a chamber pot, with an expression on his face that we can all recognise as "Oh man, I'm never drinking again..." The best bit is that it was commissioned by his wife, to try to persuade him to mend his dissolute ways. I've known people who have shown their other halves camera phone snaps as evidence of their bad behaviour, but a full size oil painting by a master artist? That's class.