Detail from William Hogarth, Gin Lane, 1751

This exhibition took you back to eighteenth-century London as it presents the British artist and satirist William Hogarth’s dramatic universe in all its teeming detail.

Prostitution, poverty, violence, drunkenness and the pursuit of luxury. In his richly detailed engravings, the British artist and visual satirist William Hogarth (1697–1764) mercilessly exposes the follies of his own age and focuses attention on the darker aspects of mankind. Not just to humiliate and entertain, but because he is convinced that art can affect the attitudes and behaviour of those who view it.

The pursuit of luxury
In his prints Hogarth creates a new kind of serial visual narrative – a precursor of the comic book. In scenes full of drama and detail he portrays his own time, the hectic pace of society and the moral decline seen in the metropolis. Several of Hogarth’s works relate the stories of people who strive for lives in the lap of luxury. But in every single case their temptations prompt them to lose themselves in debauchery, heading straight towards self-destruction and death.

Delve into Hogarth’s swarming world
The exhibition allowed you to take in Hogarth’s prints and all their swarming details at close quarters. Featuring more than 60 engravings, it transported you back to eighteenth-century city life in London.

The many facets of city life

William Hogarth was born on 10 November 1697 in the city of London, which he eventually goes on to depict in his engravings right up until his death in 1764. In his prints, Hogarth presents and parades how life is lived in what was the greatest European city of the age – an age of poverty, luxury, vain self-staging, decay and decline, violence, drunkenness and deceit.

Fiction in real-life settings
Hogarth observes the chaos of city life every day, and his works portray that reality – but in a constructed and exaggerated manner. The settings are shown with great accuracy, but the stories and scenes that take place in them spring from Hogarth’s own imagination. Even so, they are inspired by his own observations, occasionally referring directly to recognisable real-life characters.

A play without speech
Hogarth is very interested in theatre, and this fascination is evident in his works – partly in how he stages his stories, and partly in his use of dramatic devices. Hogarth himself describes his approach in these terms: My picture was my stage and men and women my actors who were … to exhibit a dumb show.

Hogarth is always working with contrasts and dualities in his works – operating in a charged field where many things intersect: satire and morality, entertainment and serious critique, the polite and the scandalous, and high and low culture.

Practical information

Opening hours
Tuesdays – Sundays 11–17
Wednesdays 11–20
Mondays closed

Admission fee
Adults: DKK 110
Under 30: DKK 85
Under 18: Free
1 adult + 1 child: DKK 90
Annual pass holders: Free

Annual pass for SMK
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London then and now

Hogarth mercilessly exposes the follies of his own age and focuses attention on the darker aspects of mankind: Prostitution, poverty, violence, drunkenness and the pursuit of luxury. Hogarth depicts London as it was then. But how do his settings look today? Take a peep at the Tate website.

William Hogarth, A Harlots Progress, plate 1, 1732

William Hogarth, A Harlots Progress, plate 2, 1732

William Hogarth, A Harlots Progress, plate 6, 1732

Entertainment with a serious undercurrent

Above you can see excerpts from the series A Harlot’s Progress. Published in 1732, it was an instant success – and a scandalous one. In fact, no less that eight pirated copies soon entered circulation on the art market. With this series Hogarth focuses attention on prostitution – a very hot topic at the time. 

A life in decline
The main protagonist of the series, the fictional anti-heroine Moll Hackabout, is introduced in the first picture as a young, innocent girl who has just arrived in London. Immediately upon her arrival, however, she is enticed into a life of prostitution by a brothel-keeper. In the second print, Moll has become embroiled in the world of erotic deception: the scene captures a moment in time where she kicks over a table to distract her wealthy lover while her other lover tiptoes out on stockinged feet. The following pictures portray the steady decline of Moll’s existence.

Instruction through entertainment
By combining serious topics with an air of entertainment, Hogarth pleases and holds the spectator’s eyes, thereby allowing the graver undercurrents to sink in as the story progresses towards its tragic climax. In this way Hogarth entertains while also prompting the spectator to discover and relate to current issues.

Violence, torture and pain

In 1751 Hogarth publishes the series The Four Stages of Cruelty – you can see excerpts from the series below.  With this series, Hogarth wants his contemporaries to become aware of the escalating violence in city life – and to take a stand.

Hogarth presents how violent behaviour has become one of the key problems of modern city life. Hogarth pulls no punches: he exposes the fatal, violent tendencies of mankind in a very direct fashion.

Zoom in and explore

Zoom in and explore

Hogarth’s works often feature more than one story. 

Behind the woman with her breast bared, the work Gin Lane is teeming with little stories about life in eighteenth-century London. Zoom in on the work to hunt for the stories within the story.

We wish to warmly thank the sponsors of this exhibition

In The First Stage of Cruelty we are introduced to the main protagonist, the young Tom Nero. Wearing tattered rags and coarse-faced, he has entered one of the better-ordered neighbourhoods of London.  Surrounded by better-dressed young boys, he and they amuse themselves by torturing animals. At the centre of the scene is Tom Nero, grimly and determinedly penetrating a dog’s anus with an arrow without even noticing the food he is offered to stop.

In Cruelty in Perfection Tom Nero has murdered his lover. She lies prostrate on the ground, obviously pregnant. Her mutilated body has gaping wounds in her throat and on her hands. Tom Nero has been apprehended and is now confronted by the defaced and marred body. His bald head is turned half away, its expression contorted: he sees the body, yet does not wish to see.

In The Reward of Cruelty, Nero has been hanged and lies dead on the dissection table. His chest has been cut open, and a surgeon digs deep for his entrails, which an assistant plumps into a pail while a dog feasts on his heart. Even in death Tom Nero’s face is contorted in what looks like a scream, suggesting a response to the pain of the surgeon’s probing knife exploring his eye socket.

Art at eye level

Hogarth enjoys artistic and commercial success in his own time, both as a painter and as an engraver. He soon becomes the most famous printmaker of his day thanks to his popular satirical prints. Today, Hogarth is still regarded as one of the greatest artists to come out of Britain.

Success in every strata of society 
William Hogarth wants to create relatable art: art that is not just for the rich, but which ordinary people can also understand and afford. With his mass-produced printed series of down-to-earth stories he attracts and influences audiences from every strata of society, achieving great success along the way.

Advertisements and subscriptions
The amount of printed pictures published in eighteenth-century London is quite overwhelming. This made the market for engravings fiercely competitive. Of course, advertising is part of the effort to win attention, but Hogarth stands out by issuing subscription tickets – he launches advertisements that announce his intention to publish a new series and allow people to subscribe beforehand at a favourable price. In this way Hogarth not only advertises his upcoming prints, he also raises the funds to produce them and ensures that they will have an audience.

Eighteenth-century moral satire in 2016

The Royal Collection of Graphic Arts at the SMK is one of the world'sm oldest and it is home to more than 240,000 works – including a large collection of William Hogarth’s best and most famous prints.

Why exhibit these works now? Mikkel Bogh, director of the SMK, explains: 
Putting these works on view strikes us as highly relevant in an age where political, religious and moral satire is not only as widespread as in Hogarth’s time, but also the object of both laughter and discussion – and, occasionally, impassioned, fervent or even zealous reactions.









Detail from William Hogarth, Characters and Caricaturas, 1743

Characters and Caricaturas is a Hogarth stands out by issuing subscription tickets – an advertisement that announces his intention to publish a new series and allow people to subscribe beforehand at a favourable price.

About the collection of Graphic Art

The Royal Collection of Graphic Art

The Royal Collection of Graphic Art holds more than 240,000 works.