Mon 13 Aug
The first preview of Hogarth's Progress comes to the Rose in exactly one month! To celebrate we delved into two of William Hogarth's most famous works. Join us on a stroll down the hellish Gin Lane and bubbly Beer Street.
Hogarth etched Gin Lane and Beer Street in 1751 to support the Gin Act, a Parliamentary measure with the aim to reduce the consumption of spirits by raising the very cheap cost of buying and selling gin and other distilled alcohols. Before the Gin Act 1751 it become apparent to Parliament that copious gin consumption was causing social problems and high levels of crime around London, even the previous Gin Act 1736 which made it harder and more costly to buy and sell gin didn't affect its popularity, and only succeeded in driving the trade underground.
William Hogarth issued Gin Lane to shock the lower classes into reforming, depicting the gin craze as a method of oppression by the governing classes. The picture depicts the slum district St Giles, and a community drinking gin in squalor. In the foreground, a drunk woman, driven to prostitution by her addiction to gin, covered in syphilitic sores, lets her baby slip from her arms with no concern for the infant. Elsewhere, gin drives the residents to ruin and despair: mothers pour gin into the mouths of their youngsters, a couple in rags desperately try to sell pots and pans to feed their habit and dead bodies line the streets.
However Beer Street, which was published alongside Gin Lane, shows happy and fulfilled Londoners living together in harmony. Set in Westminster, tradesmen and craftsmen live a content life, healthy and prosperous with large bellies, drinking huge tankards of ale. In comparison to Gin Lane, all residents are labourers, drinking the beer they've earnt after a hard day's work. Nothing could be further from the grim hell of Gin Lane where the people are destitute and penniless because of their reliance on the drink.
Hogarth sold prints of these works for a shilling each and by keeping costs down reached a larger market. His prints were displayed in pubs and shops and the low price meant there was less chance of his work being reproduced and sold without his permission. The Gin Act 1751 was considered a success, as the following year production of the spirit fell by 40%.
To find out more about Gin Lane and Beer Street you can read a BBC Culture article here.
William Hogarth (British, 1697-1764). Gin Lane, 1751. Engraving, . Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Samuel E. Haslett, 22.1855
William Hogarth (British, 1697-1764). Beer Street, 1751. Engraving, . Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Samuel E. Haslett, 22.1867