In The Four Times of Day, Hogarth takes us on a humorous walking tour through four areas of the city. The viewer journeys from Covent Garden, famous for its market, coffee houses and brothels, to Soho and its French/Huguenot community, to the aspirant bourgeoisie of Islington and finally to the taverns and Freemason lodges of Charing Cross, an area historically associated with the English Civil War and its political repercussions.

The sequential format has antecedents in European pictorial traditions, particularly in other Times of Day, but also The Seasons and Ages of Man. The literary context for Hogarth’s series is evident in Swift’s Description of the Morning (1709) and Gay’s Trivia; Or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716), and the satirical tour narratives of Ned Ward, in particular The London Spy (1698-1700), which was often reprinted in the eighteenth century.

As a series, The Four Times of Day relates to A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress. However, what unites each scene to the other are not the individual characters, none of whom are repeated, but the passage of time itself. Hogarth seems to accentuate the notion of the ‘progress of the day’, as well as that of an urban tour, by showing prominent figures walking across the compositions.

Morning

The setting is the west side of Covent Garden piazza on a winter’s morning. On the right vegetable and fruit-sellers and market-stall holders are preparing for the day, while a fight has broken out in Tom King’s coffee house on the left with someone’s wig flying out of the door. Two aristocratic rakes are fondling and kissing young market girls. They are observed by a well-dressed woman, who pauses on her way to church. Her shivering footboy, his nose bright red from the cold, follows her holding a prayer book.

Noon

The spire of St Giles-in-the-Fields, seen in the background, indicates that Noon is set in Soho, an area associated with London’s Huguenot community (French Protestants). On the left a soberly dressed congregation spills out onto the street. In front of them are a lavishly dressed couple, their posturing probably meant to indicate that they are French. On the right, a servant girl is being fondled by a black footman. With her attention understandably diverted, she inadvertently tips some of the juice from her pie onto the small boy standing beneath, breaking his platter. He stands rubbing his head and bawling uncontrollably, while a street urchin busily eats the remnants.

Evening

Unlike the other scenes in The Four Times of Day, this composition includes a wide-open sky and rolling hills. The glorious sunset suggests a summer evening. The location is Islington, then at the northern edge of London. In the later seventeenth century the area had established itself as a popular retreat from the city. The stone entrance of Sadler’s Wells Theatre can be seen on the right. By the 1730s, the theatre was satirised for having a down-market clientele consisting of tradesmen and their overbearing, snobbish wives. The focus of Hogarth’s composition is a dyer and his family strolling wearily across a footbridge by the New River.

Night

Night is set in a narrow street in Charing Cross, with Le Sueur’s equestrian statue of Charles I in the background. The street is occupied by two taverns, the Earl of Cardigan on the left and the Rummer Tavern on the right, both of which functioned as Freemason Lodges in the 1730s. The foreground is dominated by the figure of a drunken Freemason being helped home. By tradition, he is Sir Thomas de Veil, a magistrate who was well known at the time for the severity of his sentencing, in particular for gin-sellers. Ironically, he is too drunk to notice the chaos around him, with the bonfire overturning a coach.

  • The Four Times of Day is on display in Room 5 of the exhibition