When Captain Thomas Coram established The Foundling Hospital in 1739, he was supported in his work by the artist William Hogarth, who encouraged all the leading artists of the day to donate work. In doing so, they created London’s first public art gallery and set the template for the way that the arts could support philanthropy. The Foundling Museum celebrates their vision and continues their work, by enabling today’s artists, musicians and writers to work alongside vulnerable young people and to cast new light on the histories we tell.
Hogarth once again takes on a leading role in the 10th anniversary exhibition at the Foundling Museum. To mark the 250th anniversary of his death, ‘Progress’ brings together for the first time three great contemporary responses to his eternally modern moral tale, A Rake’s Progress. David Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress, 1961-3, Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy, 1998 and Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences, 2012 will be shown alongside Hogarth’s original 1735 prints and joined by a newly commissioned work by Jessie Brennan. The inclusion of an unknown artist is a nod to the launch of Gainsborough’s career, who was barely known until he was championed by Hogarth and selected for exhibit at the Foundling.
Stephanie Chapman, who has curated the exhibition commented on the ongoing relevance of Hogarth’s work: “Whilst William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress is firmly set in eighteenth-century London, the work has transcended the specifics of time and place, inspiring generation after generation of artist and audience. His timeless themes of vice, temptation and the dangerous coupling of youth and freedom – presented within the deeply ironic format of a ‘progress’ – have attracted some of the greatest artists of the past 50 years.”
Hogarth’s popularity with both artists and the public has endured for over two hundred years, and his work has provided inspiration to successive generations. Hockney, Shonibare and Perry not only update Hogarth’s searing social commentary, they also add their own personal concerns to the creative dialogue. Commissioning an emerging female artist to respond to Hogarth’s work, the Foundling Museum further develops the conversation and brings A Rake’s Progress bang up to date. Brennan’s sense of humour, her intensely-observed and detailed graphic works, and her use of London as both subject matter and barometer for social ‘progress’, speaks to Hogarth’s much loved series.
Contributing artist Grayson Perry commented, “I think of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress as the most English of English artworks, sharp, social, humane and above all, funny. The subject, one man’s journey through the strata of English society, is as relevant now as it was in Hogarth’s day. Hogarth, I feel, set the tone for so much of our culture and his series of paintings hangs in our collective imagination reminding us what kind of ingredients make up the national character. The details of an Englishman’s daily life might be very different but the rich mix of love, avarice, brutality and debauchery still thrive in modern forms.”
The exhibition will run from 6 June to 7 September 2014.
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