Throughout his life, Hogarth revelled in the chaotic vitality of London’s streets. His vision of the city is examined through such seminal works as The Shrimp Girl and The Four Times of Day

Hogarth’s urban scenes are bustling and dynamic, placing the viewer in an intimate, even claustrophobic, relationship with his or her surroundings. The city is presented as it might be encountered by someone walking in a crowd, rather than as a sanitized experience involving elegant and regulated thoroughfares, with Londoners as a well-behaved supporting cast. Hogarth’s representation of urban life is far removed from the order and sanity of conventional engraved perspective views of the city, or the ‘polite’ genre-cum-topographical paintings of Balthazar Nebot and others, which were brought to a high point of sophistication with the arrival of Antonio Canaletto in London in 1746.

Hogarth’s vision of London, however, habitually represented a complex interaction between high and low culture. This mirrored his own identity as both roving satirist and gentleman artist and indicated that his commercial target was the exclusive collectors’ market.

On the one hand, his approach parallels the bawdy pictorial satires and popular journalism that developed from the late 1690s, in particular Ned Ward’s The London Spy 1699–1700. And on the other, it correlates with the more elevated artistic ambitions of the urban-themed poems of Jonathan Swift and John Gay, which were modelled on revered classical literature. 

Works on display in this room

Balthazar Nebot, 'Covent Garden Market' 1737

Balthazar Nebot
Covent Garden Market 1737
Oil on canvas
support: 648 x 1228 mm frame: 876 x 1460 x 80 mm
Purchased 1895

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Balthazar Nebot
Covent Garden Market 1737

Nebot has combined genre with townscape painting to create a panoramic image of the piazza and open-air market. In the background can be seen St Paul’s Church and the sundial column which, with the arcade, were the piazza’s dominant architectural features. In the foreground a well-dressed couple pause as their child gives money to a beggar. Meanwhile, a dog urinates on a fence post. Such incidental details, common in Hogarth’s work, suggest that the painting is an authentic record of London street life. However, unlike Hogarth’s representation of Covent Garden in Morning (The Four Times of Day), the vantage point for the viewer is at a distance, resulting in psychological detachment.

T. Bowles, London Described, or the Most Regular Buildings etc. 1731
Book, 550 x 395 x 50 mm; 550 x 820 mm open
Guildhall Library, City of London

In the 1630s the Covent Garden area was redeveloped into an elegant, arcaded square with fashionable town houses that were inhabited by aristocrats. By the 1730s, the residents were mainly artists, craftsmen and shopkeepers. Hogarth lived in Covent Garden before moving to Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square) in 1733.

With its elegant architectural layout and famous open-air market, the piazza of Covent Garden was a popular subject for topographical prints, an example of which is shown here by Sutton Nicholls (?1688–about 1730). The scene is genteel and sanitised, in direct contrast to Hogarth’s frenetic image of the piazza in Morning (The Four Times of Day).

Louis Philippe Boitard
The Covt Garden Morning Frolick 1747
Print on paper
287 x 357 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

As demonstrated by this print, there was a market for bawdy images of urban life, including drunken behaviour. The Covent Garden area was renowned for its taverns, coffee houses and brothels. Thus Boitard depicts a reveller after a night on the town, catching a ride home on a sedan chair, while the occupant sleeps. In Morning (The Four Times of Day), Hogarth brings together both the ‘polite’ and ‘impolite’ worlds of Covent Garden – the elegant square with the celebrated market during the day, and the haunt of prostitutes, rakes and drunkards by night – by selecting the moment, early in the morning, when these worlds temporarily coexist.

Joseph Nickolls
A View of Charing Cross and Northumberland House 1746
Oil on canvas
609 x 736 mm
Courtesy The Royal Bank of Scotland Group

Nickolls painted a number of city views which, like Nebot’s Covent Garden Market, are both topographical, in detailing actual buildings and landmarks, and filled with miniaturised incidents of everyday life. This painting shows the Charing Cross area with Hubert Le Sueur’s equestrian statue of Charles I, beyond which is the Strand and Northumberland House with its two towers.

Charing Cross is also the setting for Hogarth’s Night (The Four Times of Day). Unlike Nicholls’s composition, which concentrates on architectural grandeur with an impression of urban life, Night is claustrophobic and chaotic with the viewer positioned as if walking down the side street, confronted by a jumble of seemingly unconnected incidents.

Paul Sandby
Title page of Twelve Cries of London 1760
Etching on paper
335 x 280 mm
Museum of London

Sandby’s evocative London series was clearly influenced by Hogarth’s approach to street scenes. While continental artists, such as Amiconi, tended towards images of prettified poverty, Sandby presents his street sellers in more realistic, ‘Hogarthian’ terms. Thus they are often dressed in torn and dirty clothing, their faces weather-beaten or contorted with the effort of crying their wares (see The Enraged Musician, below).

Paul Sandby
Fun Upon Fun, or the first and second part of Mrs Kitty Fisher’s Merry Thought: Twelve Cries of London 1760
Etching on paper
230 x 170 mm
Museum of London

Paul Sandby
Mackerel Seller: Twelve Cries of London 1760
Etching on paper
278 x 213 mm
Museum of London

On occasion Sandby’s characterisations border on the grotesque. Hogarth’s Shrimp Girl, for example, is a far more appealing individual than the terrifying creature selling mackerel in Sandby’s print displayed here.

Paul Sandby
Nosegay Seller: Twelve Cries of London 1760
Etching on paper
230 x 170 mm
Museum of London

In contrast with the Mackerel Seller, Sandby’s pretty, young nosegay-seller wears a low-cut dress and looks provocatively out at the viewer. This suggests that her body, as well as her produce, might be for sale, thus acknowledging the interrelationship between street trading and prostitution at this time. Hogarth compositions often focused on an attractive female subject, such as in Southwark Fair and The Enraged Musician, where the central figures are a pretty drummer-girl and milkmaid respectively. And in Morning and Noon (The Four Times of Day) and Strolling Actresses in a Barn, the young working women are portrayed more overtly as objects of male desire.

Marcellus Laroon
The Cries of London 1711
Book
300 x 170 x 20 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

This series of graphic images that show single or paired street pedlars and their shouts, described as ‘Cries’, dates back to the early sixteenth century. In England, the genre was dominated by foreign artists until the mid-eighteenth century. Marcellus Laroon’s Cryes, first published in 1687, were the most sought after series during Hogarth’s lifetime. Born in The Hague in 1653, Laroon was the son of a Frenchman who had settled in Holland. By 1674 Laroon was living in London and in 1680 had taken up residence in the Covent Garden area. It has been more recently proven that Hogarth knew Laroon’s Cryes and probably conceived prints such as The Enraged Musician 1741 as a spirited ‘English’ riposte.

Marcellus Laroon Crab Crab any Crab c.1688

Marcellus Laroon
Crab Crab any Crab c.1688
Etching on paper
250 x 170 mm

Guildhall Library, City of London

Marcellus Laroon
Crab Crab any Crab c.1688
Etching on paper
250 x 170 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

Laroon’s interpretation of London’s bustling street commerce is solid, robust and unsentimental. The majority of the figures are seen walking or turning, their flapping clothes adding to the sense of movement. Some are shown shouting or sounding their wares with instruments, which, with the accompanying titles (e.g. ‘Crab Crab any Crab’), attempts to evoke sound. As well as street pedlars, Laroon included other urban types, including a courtesan and street performers, such as ‘The famous Dutch Woman’ (displayed nearby).

Marcellus Laroon
The Merry Milk Maid c.1688
Etching on paper
270 x 160 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

Marcellus Laroon
Famous Dutch Woman: The Cryes of the City of London 1688
Woodcut on paper
250 x 165 mm
Museum of London

Marcellus Laroon
Knives or Cisers to Grinde c.1688
Etching on paper
290 x 210 mm
Guildhall Library, City of London

Marcellus Laroon
London Curtezan: The Cryes of the City of London 1688
Woodcut on paper
250 x 160 mm
Museum of London

Josef Wagner after Giacomo Amiconi
Golden Pippins 1739
Etching on paper
255 x 205 mm
The British Museum, London

William Hogarth The Shrimp Girl c.1740 - 1745

William Hogarth
The Shrimp Girl c.1740 - 1745
Oil on Canvas
635 x 525 mm

© The National Gallery, London

William Hogarth
The Shrimp Girl c.1740–5

Selling shellfish in the street was normally the work of the wives or daughters of fishmongers who ran stalls in markets. The Shrimp Girl is shown balancing a characteristically large dish-shaped basket on her head, in which can be seen mussels, shrimps and a half-pint pewter jug for measuring purposes.

The painting’s scale strongly suggests that Hogarth had embarked on this work as a portrait in its own right. The individuality and expressiveness of the face also point towards a life study. The rapid, broad brushstrokes and thin layers of paint accentuate the sense of movement and spontaneity in the turning figure, as if Hogarth had captured the woman walking past him in the street.

William Hogarth
The Laughing Audience (or A Pleased Audience) December 1733
Etching on paper
188 x 171 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

The theme of The Laughing Audience is that of everyday life being dramatised as a piece of theatre or entertainment. The audience members standing in the pit are laughing uproariously at the play being performed in front of them. Although contorted with laughter, each face denotes individuality and genuine enjoyment, underlining Hogarth’s artistic pursuit of character rather than caricature.

In the background, standing in a theatre box, are two rakish aristocrats who are oblivious to the goings-on around them. One flirts with an orange-seller on the left. The other aristocrat, with studied elegance, ‘gallantly’ offers a lady a small box probably containing snuff .

William Hogarth
Southwark Fair (or The Humours of a Fair) January 1733
Etching and engraving on paper
362 x 473 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

Southwark Fair was held in the area around the church of St George the Martyr, the square tower of which can be seen in the background. The composition also incorporates theatrical troops and street entertainers who performed in Southwark and elsewhere in London. Hogarth’s Southwark Fair was conceived as a kind of epilogue to A Rake’s Progress, the final scene of which shows Tom Rakewell consigned to Bedlam. Southwark Fair transfers the viewer to a chaotic London street fair, with its theatrical troupes, street performers, puppet shows and carnival characters. Tom Rakewell’s spectacular fall is comically paralleled (far left) by the troupe of players in costume, tumbling downwards as their stage collapses.

The more general theme of Southwark Fair is the interrelationship between theatre and everyday life. In this context the crowd milling around on the street are both spectators and part of the spectacle, as well as potential subject matter for Hogarth’s satirical eye. The image also underlines that Hogarth’s work could be at once allegorical and literal. This becomes obvious when comparing and contrasting Southwark Fair with the contemporary print by William Dicey entitled The Humours of Bartholomew Fair c.1733, which is a straightforward representation of an actual event.

William Dicey
The Humours and Diversion of Batholomew Fair c.1735
Etching on paper
455 x 560 mm
Museum of London

William Hogarth
Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn 25 March 1738
Etching and engraving on paper
510 x 627 mm
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

This complex print shows a troupe of actresses and child actors preparing for an evening performance. The dilapidated barn is littered with pieces of stage scenery and props, such as celestial clouds and Roman standards, which set the scene for the numerous visual plays on high and low culture within the composition.

Actresses were associated with prostitution at this time. Here the scene is dominated by a pretty young woman in the centre. As the viewers take in her provocatively displayed body, she acknowledges their presence with a sideways look and faint smile. Her hair ornaments include a moon, the symbol of Diana, the virgin huntress. Thus she is both undressing and ‘performing’ as the goddess.

William Hogarth
The Distrest Poet (first published state) 15 December 1740
Etching and engraving on paper
Courtesy Andrew Edmunds, London

In the print of The Distrest Poet, a copy of The Grub-street Journal can be seen on the floor. Published from 1730 to 1737, the journal was a satire on ‘popular’ journalism and hack writing, euphemistically known as ‘Grub Street’, coined after an actual street in the City of London. Hogarth’s Distrest Poet visualises the stereotype of the ‘Grub-Street hack’ established by the early 1730s: a man who, despite his limited talent and poverty-stricken circumstances, doggedly pursues a living as a writer. By convention, he lives in a run-down garret.

Hogarth underlines the desperate circumstances of ‘the poet’ and his family, by showing the one-room garret sparsely furnished and a milkmaid shouting at the door proffering a long, unpaid bill. Meanwhile, the wife darns a suit and their hungry baby cries. The aspiring poet sits at the table, scratching his head with frustration at his lack of inspired thoughts. Near him lies a copy of Edward Bysshe’s guide to composition entitled The Art of English Poetry (1702). The poet clearly has dreams that his work will bring him a large fortune and high social status. The dog stealing the family’s last piece of food by the open door implies that he is doomed to fail.

William Hogarth
The Distressed Poet 1736
Oil on canvas
659 x 791 mm
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

William Hogarth, 'The Enraged Musician' 1741

William Hogarth
The Enraged Musician 1741
Etching and engraving on paper
image: 332 x 405 mm
Transferred from the reference collection 1973

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William Hogarth
The Enraged Musician 1741

Hogarth advertised this print as a companion to The Distrest Poet, displayed nearby. The rowdy street pedlars include (on the right) an Irish paver, a fish-seller, a dustman, a sow-gelder and (in the foreground) a knife-grinder. On the left a pregnant ballad-seller sings, mimicked by the squawking parrot above her head. A Jewish haut-boy (a type of oboe) player stands directly beneath the musician’s window. In the centre a young milk-seller balances a large pail on her head, calling her wares and looking directly out at the viewer. The similarities between this figure and Laroon’s Merry Milk Maid, displayed here, strongly suggest that Hogarth drew inspiration from Laroon’s work, and furthermore that he was inviting comparisons to be made between them.

The cacophony of the street has interrupted the continental/Italian musician. He clamps his hands over his ears and looking furiously out of the window. The poster on the wall to the left anachronistically advertises John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera with the cast from its first season of 1728. Gay’s hugely successful ballad opera was viewed by many as a challenge to the dominance of Italian opera, which was patronised by high society. In this context Hogarth’s print might be interpreted as celebrating the ‘silencing’ of a foreign musical tradition, as well as representing a humorous confrontation between high culture and low life.