Artwork: Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress

I think I’ve mentioned Hogarth once or twice. Filthy man. Among his most famous work is a series of six paintings depicting the innocence, and then downfall, of London prostitute Moll Hackabout.

Told you us Brits love depravity...

The story Hogarth tells in these images is cyclical. I've Vined a video of them so you can see the images going round and round and round...

In the first scene, she has arrived in London with scissors and a pincushion. She probably came down from York to become a big city seamstress. However, she has caught the eye of the real-life brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham – and some punters nearby.

Lots of symbolism here – the punters are standing in front of a decrepit building (mirroring their decrepit morals etc). One of them is touching himself. Keep it classy, guys. More symbolism: Moll is dressed in white. The white goose in the bottom right hand corner is dead. Like Moll’s fate. Sorry for the spoiler.

A little ways down the road, Moll is a merchant’s mistress. Old Testament paintings in the background show a lack of empathy between Moll and her ‘master’. Her exotic bits and bobs (the monkey, the make up, the mask) show how she was tempted into this lifestyle. She kicks over a table to distract the merchant from her second lover, who escapes from behind the door.

Oh Moll, it’s all going  a bit downhill, isn’t it?

In the third image, Moll is a common prostitute. Look at the cat at her feet – bet Moll spends a lot of time in that position (sorry for being crude, it’s just one of those undeniable reflections of reality. And like I said, Hogarth was a filthy man). Syphilis is all around her – her maid is syphilitic and cures are above the two portraits on the left hand side. I could go on for hours about all the symbolic parts of this image, but for the sake of conciseness, I’ll leave it (but look into it, it’s like a big old syphilitic web of crap).

The men coming through the door are on their way to arrest her. And her boob’s flopped out. It’s not looking good...

And now our girl’s in Bridewell prison, beating hemp for the hangmen’s noose. Dear oh dear. But it doesn’t stop there...

Here she is, dying of... You guessed it, syphilis. Her quack doctors are arguing about how to treat her while she slips further away. A woman is rifling through her things, cashing in on Moll’s death. She has a son now, and he’s picking fleas... I guess Hogarth’s hinting at the whole ‘poverty is cyclical’ thing.

Dead at the age of 23, her wake is only attended by those who led her to her coffin. One man has his hand up another woman’s skirt as his brandy spills. A woman checks her appearance in a mirror in the background, ignoring her syphilitic spot. She’ll end up like Moll too – you can’t help but wonder whether she’s at the same stage at Moll in plate 3.

So there we go, a nice little Hump Day treat for you – no pun intended!


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