Beer Street / Gin Lane

Method Copper engraving
Artist William Hogarth
Published Design'd by W. Hogarth. Publish'd according to Act of Parliamt. Feb. 1. 1751 [Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1822]
Dimensions Each Image ~360 x 305 mm, Plate ~390 x 325 mm
Notes A posthumously published pair of Hogarth's most famous moral engravings, Beer Street and Gin Lane. The prints were first designed and issued in February 1751, and, like the Four Stages of Cruelty series that followed, engraved in a much heavier wood-cut style and sold cheaply in order to attract the widest possible dissemination. Hogarth was inspired by growing concerns about the role of gin-fuelled social degeneration in the capital, following the relaxation in 1743 of the taxes and license charges associated with the sale of gin in England. At the time, gin was still a relatively new and 'foreign' drink, and its cheap and widespread availability was seen as a major cause for drunkenness among the lower classes, and in turn, the rapid rise in crime. Hogarth's prints, with their figures closely modelled on Brueghel's La Cuisine Maigre and La Cuisine Grasse, contained a strong moral message, that beer was the drink of success, and gin the drink of ruin. Less than six months after the publication of Beer Street and Gin Lane, the Gin Act was passed, drastically limiting the availability of gin and more than doubling the tax on its importation and distilling.

Beer Street: The hale, hearty, and joyful residents of London take their leisure on Beer Street, with the City flourishing around them. In the foreground, a group of jolly and rotund characters sit around a table outside a tavern called the Barley Mow. The three men, a butcher, a blacksmith, and a pavior, hold massive flagons of foaming ale. On the table between them is a transcript of the Kings Speech, dating the scene to the King's Birthday and giving cause for the celebrations which take place in the scene. The blacksmith holds aloft a massive haunch of ham, while the pavior, resting on his rammer, seduces a serving girl. Two fishwives with baskets of fish read a pamphlet of Herrings penned by Hogarth's friend, John Lockman. Behind the figures in the foreground are the only signs of decay in the scene. Up a ladder, a thin and tattered artist paints an advertisement for gin on the tavern sign, unobserved by the crowd who are far more interested in their beer. Across the street, the recent prosperity of the city has driven the appropriately named Pinch the Pawnbroker to near destitution, his building in a state of obvious disrepair. In the background, two sedan-chair attendants drop their burden, a corpulent woman, to quaff a few refreshments at The Sun tavern, while a group of builders above the tavern on a scaffold, wave their hats in honour of the King. Below the scene, a short moral poem reads: Beer, happy Produce of our Isle, Can sinewy Strength impart, And wearied with Fatigue and Toil, Can chear each manly Heart. Labour and Art upheld by Thee, Successfully advance, We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee, And Water leave to France. Genius of Health, they grateful Taste, Rivals the Cup of Jove, And warms each English generous Breast, With Liberty and Love.

Gin Lane: In Gin Lane, the scene is one of the utmost desperation and degeneration. The malnourished, crazed, and evil denizens reside in a landscape wracked by poverty and ruin. Front and centre is the most famous emblem of the dangers of Gin. A drunken and syphilitic woman rests on some stairs, her tattered blouse open to show her bare breasts, her teeth missing, and her legs covered in sores. In her drunken state, she reaches for some snuff, oblivious to the child that falls from her arms to its death. At the bottom of the stairs, an emaciated itinerant poet has collapsed and is perhaps already dead. He has sold most of his clothes to buy gin, and his only possessions are an empty bottle and a pamphlet entitled 'The Downfall of Mdm. Gin.' A dog rests against him, and in the bottom left corner can be seen the dank entrance to a gin shop, promising over the lintel 'Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for two pence, Clean Straw for Nothing.' On the terrace above the Gin Royal tavern, a starving woman fights a dog to gnaw a bone, while a carpenter sells his coat and saw to the Pawnbroker. In contrast to Beer Street, the only signs of success in the scene are the very same Pinch the Pawnbroker, now in his element, the Kilman Distillery across the street, and the undertaker, who, more than anyone else, benefits from the utter devastation surrounding them. Below the scene, a short moral poem reads: Gin cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught, Makes human Race a Prey; It enters by a deadly Draught, And steals our Life away. Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair, It's Rage compells to fly, But cherishes, with hellish Care, Theft, Murder, Perjury. Damn'd Cup! That on the Vitals preys, That liquid Fire contains, Which Madness to the Heart conveys, And rolls it thro' the Veins.

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. After apprenticeship to a goldsmith, he began to produce his own engraved designs in about 1710. He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs, but based on earlier Italian prints, of which the first was The Harlot's Progress (1731), and perhaps the most famous The Rake's Progress. His engravings were so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735, commonly referred to as 'Hogarth's Act,' as a protection for writers and artists. During the 1730s Hogarth also developed into an original painter of life-sized portraits, and created the first of several history paintings in the grand manner.

Paulson 185 and 186 (iv/iv). These impressions are from the final printing of Hogarth's original plates, which were sold to Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy at the Boydell auction on 1818, and restored by James Heath for their 1822 edition.

Condition: Strong dark impressions. Minor paper thinning and creasing to plate marks. Repaired splitting to top and left margins of 'Beer Street.' Framed in a pair of antique 'Hogarth' frames.
Framing framed
Price £1,200.00
Stock ID 48165