No artist has ever portrayed London life so vividly as William Hogarth. From the elegance of aristocratic life in the new West End squares down to the poverty and squalor of Gin Lane (roughly where our Centrepoint stands today), Hogarth offers a memorable picture of his 18th-century world - a world of Adam, Chippendale and sumptuous pleasure gardens but also a time when three out of every four children failed to reach the age of five.
Hogarth was a Londoner through and through. Born in 1697 near Bart's Hospital, he was apprenticed to an engraver in St Martin's Lane, was married at St Mary's on Paddington Green, lived in what is now Leicester Square and also had a country cottage in Chiswick. He was a staunch supporter of the Coram Foundling Hospital in Bloomsbury and became a Governor of Bart's.
In many ways the gruff and pugnacious Hogarth was the personification of the "John Bull" figure which became popular in the 18th century. Or, in more modern language, he was an early "Euro-sceptic".
He rarely went out of London and only once ventured abroad, with predictably disastrous results. Whilst innocently sketching Calais Gate, Hogarth was arrested by the French authorities for being a spy. Thrown into the local gaol, it took him some time to convince them of his innocence and did absolutely nothing to improve his opinion of "foreigners".
Unfortunately for Hogarth, one of his Chiswick neighbours was the Earl of Burlington whose Chiswick House and Villa (the subject of a current exhibition at the Royal Academy) was a potent symbol of "Euro-enthusiasm", slavishly imitating approved `Italian' models. Burlington's wishes were faithfully executed by the designer and architect William Kent.
When Hogarth died in 1764 he was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chiswick. His tomb carries an epitaph which was provided by one of the painter's friend and admirers, the actor David Garrick. It begins, "Farewell, great painter of mankind."
No doubt Hogarth looks down with a certain justifiable pride on this glowing epitaph. But I'll bet the thing that really gets him mad is the fact that, buried not far away in the churchyard, is his old adversary William Kent. Worse still, the road nearby is actually called Burlington Lane. Even in death, Hogarth simply could not escape from those cursed Euro-enthusiasts.
Hogarth's tomb is in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Chiswick
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies