A Bicycle Ride and Memories of Hogarth

Thames flooding takes us away from the river and on an artistic adventure

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A sunny weekend, a bicycle ride down the tow path was the best way we thought of spending what could be the last of the summer sunshine. But with the Thames banks flooded and Hammersmith through to Chiswick Mall accessible only by boat, we decided to spend time in the Georgian country house of the local (or so we thought) artist, printmaker and satirist William Hogarth.

Crossing the Hogarth roundabout - the artist couldn’t have had an uglier monument than the busy and noisy network of slip roads, bridges and underground subways, to commemorate his great body of work! - was a bit of a challenge as the roads were also flooded.

The visit to Hogarth’s House was a bit of a disappointment as we discovered Hogarth actually born in central London. In Bart’s hospital in fact and lived most of his life in Covent Garden and infrequently returned to his “country” home on the borders of Hammersmith and Chiswick.

On a mission to discover more about the 18th century artist - who did not rely on religious themes but sociological and moral themes of the day - and completely foiled by the weather, we decided to trek into London following the tow path and see some of the great master’s paintings which are housed in the National Gallery and the adjacent National Portrait Gallery.

Marriage a-la-mode, one of his greatest works did not disappoint. The story of a couple who marry for all the wrong reasons – money rather than love – is depicted with the Earl of Squanderfield wooing the daughter of a wealthy city merchant ending in death and disaster. The end of the story tells the tale of the wife who murders the husband. The themes of the day – profligacy of speculators during the South Sea Bubble; the hopeless state of public health and services in the Rake’s Progress where a young woman dies of VD one thinks of the recent reports of Hammersmith being the worst boroughs in terms of the transmission of STDs.

We were by now more curious about the man behind the vision. He was known for his love of all things English including roast beef and was a founding father of an amusingly titled club The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks so we decided to wander into the National Portrait Gallery which houses a self-portrait of Hogarth and his dog Pug. For his brilliant career, Hogarth didn’t die a happy or contented man and the signs of the struggle are there in his self-portrait.

Now hungry from the long bike ride, we decided to spend the evening in the Portrait Gallery restaurant with a view of Whistler’s London (American painter James Whistler whose series The Thames Set have a beautiful light and mood which we could see from our vantage point at the gallery). The roof-top restaurant does a great pre-theatre menu which we thought would be ideal before we headed back.

With the hunting season just over, the game and the beef looked tempting but the starters we decided to go French (Hogarth would turn in his grave as he lived during troubled times between England and France and vehemently disapproved of many of the classical continental artists whose works were based on religious themes which he abhorred).

The light carpaccio of halibut was a great choice which we enjoyed with a Hungarian white wine. We did choose the game to follow which was contrasted by a tart sauce with all the trimmings – fresh vegetables and potatoes. A sticky toffee pudding and truffles with our coffee were more than we could have asked for.

We didn’t feel too guilty about the meal which at £20 a head without the wine was a delicious bargain and we decided to cycle through Hyde Park back into Hammersmith and work the meal off.

So despite our abortive attempt to spend a lazy day in Hammersmith discovering local history we were pleasantly surprised to find our answers in town.

Sumi Sastri

October 14, 2010