Socialist Worker

William Hogarth shows up an ugly system

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2682

‘The Humours of an Election, 4: Chairing the Member’ (1754-55) by William Hogarth

‘The Humours of an Election, 4: Chairing the Member’ (1754-55) by William Hogarth (Pic: Picture: 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All right)

Reviews of paintings by William Hogarth almost universally remark that his themes of corruption, prostitution, alcohol abuse and urban chaos are instantly recognisable today.

It’s partially true. In the series A Harlot’s Progress a girl from the countryside steps off a coach in Cheapside and is lured into sexual slavery.

Later, as her debts swell and her fortunes shrink, a bailiff enters to arrest her in a cramped bedroom.

When she dies from syphillis, her coffin becomes an improvised drinks table.

But Hogarth’s paintings and engravings, beautifully presented here, come from the first half of the eighteenth century.

It’s a time when the capitalist class is on the rise, not hanging on in its exhausted and outmoded twilight.

So there’s more honesty about what the market means. You see the pull of money everywhere—attracting nearly everyone but often sealing their doom.

Marriage A-la-Mode begins in the mansion of bankrupt Earl Squanderfield, who is arranging to marry his son to the daughter of a wealthy but mean city merchant.

As she is sold off a painting of a screaming Greek god, indicating horror, hangs above her head. And the emerging capitalists know they are the future.

The series called Humours of an Election shows the cheating and double-dealing behind the majesty of parliament.

It ends with a victorious Tory candidate being carried through the streets (pictured).

The Whig leaders, closer to the capitalists, watch laughing from a nearby house. They lost today, they will win tomorrow.

Hogarth can seem contemptuous of the “idle poor” and he became worse as he aged. But these are great paintings.

If you go, make sure to look out for the elector being bribed by both sides in the picture Canvassing for Votes. To me he looks very like Nigel Farage.

Hogarth: place and progress. Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP. Until 5 January. Free but book your timeslot at

I Can Go Anywhere

Stevie is a disillusioned academic dealing with a tough break up.

“Jimmy the Mod” wants Stevie’s help with an upcoming interview that will determine whether he can stay in Britain.

And he plans to argue his case on the basis that he is “100 percent mod”.

The Traverse Theatre describes the play as “a mod anthem to solidarity and acceptance in an increasingly hostile world”.

Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge St, Edinburgh EH1 2ED. 7-21 Dec, from £5

Anansi and the Grand Prize

Anansi faces ruin unless he can win a grand prize in a dance and music festival.

But an international reggae-soul superstar is gunning for the prize too.

Anansi is a trickster who often appears as a spider in West African folktales.

The play “combines the colour, humour and dynamic dance of Africa and the Caribbean”.

Bristol Old Vic, King St, Bristol BS1 4ED. 9-21 Dec, from £13

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Article information

Tue 26 Nov 2019, 15:48 GMT
Issue No. 2682
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