William Hogarth liked making series of paintings. One series he called Four Times of Day, which is comprised of Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night. Unlike his earlier sequential works (The Rake’s Progress and The Harlot’s Progress), the scenes are not connected to each other by story or characters.
Hogarth poked fun at the pastoral painting, a type of painting that placed idealized people in an idealized countryside – Hogarth changed the countryside to the city, and his people were definitely not idealized. He also drew inspiration from classical satirical literature, John Gay, and Jonathan Swift.
Each image was produced as a painting and as a mirror-image engraving. The series was finished in 1736, commissioned by Jonathan Tyers to decorate Vauxhall Gardens (a complex of pleasure gardens that allowed people of all ages and classes in).
We know it’s a cold winter morning from the snow on the roofs and the clock on the tallest building. A woman wearing a fashionable yellow dress and ermine fur muff crosses the west side of the piazza at Covent Garden. Although she’s making her way to church, she doesn’t seem to care about the beggar holding his hand out near her feet, nor about her servant boy. In the foreground, prostitutes and their johns pour out from Tom King’s Coffee House while a fight takes place inside. In the background, vegetable sellers congregate in the marketplace; the noise entrances two schoolchildren wearing hats.
The clock on the church of St. Giles of the Fields tells us this is noontime in Hog Lane, in the slum part of the district of St. Giles. The district was also host to the French Church, out of which a crowd of French Huguenots exits. The young Huguenot couple at the front of the group, along with their child, wear very fancy clothes. The French Huguenots represent artifice – Hogarth was not a fan of the French, since he was arrested in France for being a spy, and also, English people hate French people.
This trio contrasts with the poorer figures across the street: a crying child in front of a black man fondling a woman holding a pie. I’m not sure what Hogarth was trying to say here. By 1736, there were many free black people in England, and I’m sure most of them were not going around grabbing women’s breasts in public. In his essay “Hogarth and the Other”, Peter Wagner* suggests that Hogarth used the black man to represent a wild masculinity that will drag the innocent white woman into mad-crazy sexy times. Unfortunately the view of black men as more sexual, and more violently sexual, is a stereotype that’s lasted to the present. (Time to move beyond the 1730s, people!)
There’s also the weird element of the street signs: one that has the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and one that has the headless body of a woman. Ronald Paulson suggests these signs poke fun at a man’s idea of a perfect woman and a woman’s idea of a perfect man – pretty depressing, in my opinion.
On the outskirts of London, a pregnant woman and her husband walk to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which, at the time, wasn’t a very great place to visit. Someone in the background milking a cow sets the scene at around 5 o’clock. The man has blue hands, indicating that he is a dyer. He carries his tired little daughter. The cow’s horns behind his head are a symbol that his wife is having an affair and that his children are not biologically his. Two of those children, a boy and a girl, trail behind them; the girl scolds the boy, who cries – another indication that the wife is controlling (oh noes, a lady in control!).
Through the window, we can see men smoking; Hogarth makes fun of people escaping the oppressive, smoky city only to recreate that environment indoors in the country.
Lastly, and thank god, we have a nighttime scene in what’s now called Whitehall. The equestrian statue of Charles I by Hubert Le Sueur tells us it’s a section of Charing Cross Road. Although it would make sense for this painting to be set in the autumn (as the others are set in winter, spring, and summer), the oak branches above the barber’s sign indicate that it’s Oak Apple Day, May 29. That’s also why there’s a bon-fire and boys playing with fireworks. A stagecoach has overturned in the narrow street.
In the foreground, a drunk Freemason (he wears a Masonic apron), commonly identified as Sir Thomas de Veil, walks with his guard. A woman empties the contents of her chamber pot onto his head from her window – a comment on his hypocritical policies regarding alcohol. (I like to out hypocrites as much as the next person, but that’s too crass for me.) The dark spot on the guard’s head may mean he’s taking mercury pills to treat syphilis.
Although not nearly as depressing as Hogarth’s earlier works, Four Times of Day doesn’t provide any actual moral lessons – it merely presents chaotic situations. I don’t think there’s much in the way of critique, and this was felt by people of the day, too. Although prints of the series sold well, they weren’t as popular as The Rake’s Progress and The Harlot’s Progress – although, now that I think of it, perhaps the explicitly sexual nature of those works made people buy them like mad. Who knows.
*This essay appears in Word & Image in Colonial and Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures edited by Michael Meyer. Wagner draws on David Bindman’s essay “‘A Voluptuous Alliance Between Africa and Europe’: Hogarth’s Africans”, which appears in The Other Hogarth: Aesthetics of Difference, edited by Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal.