Exhibition | William Hogarth: A Harlot’s Progress and Other Stories

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 5, 2016


William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress, Plate 6, 1732, 364 × 440 mm
(Copenhagen: SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark)

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Press release (22 February 2016) from the National Gallery of Denmark:

William Hogarth: A Harlot’s Progress and Other Stories
William Hogarth: En skøges liv og andre historier

Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 14 April — 7 August 2016

Curated by Vibeke Vibolt Knudsen

A young country girl arrives in London in search of work. Instead she ends up a prostitute, and her life spirals steadily downwards, bringing stints in prison and venereal disease. With the exhibition William Hogarth: A Harlot’s Progress and Other Stories, the SMK turns back time to visit eighteenth-century city life in London. The exhibition presents work by the British artist and satirist William Hogarth (1697–1764), who invented a new kind of narrative picture series that served up satirical and moral points with acerbic wit. His style of social critique was unique for the time, focusing on many highly topical subjects: Prostitution, poverty, violence, drunkenness, deceit, self-aggrandisement and desire.

SMK_Hogarth_kalender_260x780px_v01Three series hold a particularly prominent position in Hogarth’s oeuvre: A Harlot’s Progress (1732), A Rake’s Progress (1735), and Marriage à-la-mode (1745). Each series describes a main protagonist who strives to climb the rungs of the class ladder, but loses their way in debauchery, heading directly for self-destruction and death.

In his autobiographical notes Hogarth states that his pictures are scenes from a play and his subjects are actors strutting soundlessly on the stage. His stories became highly successful, attracting a large audience that included the lower echelons of society as well as the elite. Hogarth insisted that a picture must capture the viewer’s attention by entertaining and pleasing the eye, thereby allowing the serious aspects of its subject to gradually sink in as the narrative progresses towards its tragic climax.

Hogarth’s art is closely linked to London and city life. Around the year 1700 the city had swelled to a population of 600,000, making it the largest city in Europe. He made daily records of the chaotic urban crowds, of all the many and varied forms of life unfolding in the city’s streets and houses; he had a particularly keen eye for the contrasts between different social strata and how they met and clashed.

William Hogarth: A Harlot’s Progress and Other Stories is an exhibition of works from The Royal Collection of Graphic Arts, which is one of the oldest collections of prints and drawings in the world. Housing more than 240,000 works, the collection has roots that date back to the sixteenth century. In 1843 the collection was opened to the public, and in 1896 it was relocated to the new National Gallery of Denmark alongside The Royal Collection of Paintings and The Royal Cast Collection.

The catalogue is available from Arnold Busck:

Vibeke Vibolt Knudsen, William Hogarth: En skøges liv og andre historier (Odder: Narayana Press, 2016), 96 pages, ISBN 978-8792023971, 128KR.


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