William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress” can be seen on the walls of the Sir Joan Soane Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and is a must-see. His restored house (in which he lived for 15 years between 1749 (he was born in 1697) and 1764) in Chiswick is not.
I repeat the utterance I last made after a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum in Central London: “should every house that someone famous opened be opened to the public as a shrine/museum?“
The London Historian’s visited just as it reopened following an extensive restoration (see here) and yes, it would have been sad to lose this house, which no doubt would have been its fate given its current location: next to an industrial estate, adjacent to the A4 and outshone by its neighbour Chiswick House (Note: Hogarth was not too fond of Lord Burlington – Chiswick House’s patron – and less so of his friend William Kent, which makes it rather odd that he chose to have his country house effectively next door).
Of course, when Hogarth bought this 1715 house in 1749 Chiswick was in the countryside, and as Soane had Pitzhanger Manor in the country and Burlington built Chiswick House for entertaining, Hogarth occupied this much more modest affair, with two rooms on the ground floor, his studio (since lost) and a surprisingly compact first and second floor.
The shop and counter are now in the old kitchen, the ground floor reception (dining?) room now houses an introductory exhibition and interactive computers, and the rooms upstairs contain Hogarth prints and display cabinets. The top floor is not open. There is also an extension to the right of the shop/kitchen with a most interesting exhibition on the restoration and how a further fire broke out in October 2009, part way through the restoration (funded by a Lottery grant). There is a good self-portrait of Hogarth hanging at the bottom of the stair and a short exhibition of the houses’ other occupants, plus evidence of its dereliction.
The house is decorated in muted shades of grey and striped carpets (prompting me to ask D if grey works – I’ve just painted the kitchen grey – and pointing out that I have always admired stripy carpets on stairs and that stripes might be a good ‘tenant-friendly’ carpet option).
Outside, Hogarth had an orchard but now the garden needs attention in my opinion. Given that we were visiting during the London Open Squares Weekend I would have expected some effort, but there is really now just a lawn, sad seating area and a very old mulberry tree (which may pre-date the house).
I am aware of our passion for visiting the homes of those who have touched us significantly – indeed, Hogarth’s satire and wit in the 18th century touched many dearly. For this reason alone, I’m sure Hogarth’s House will have an audience; I just wish there was more effort made to recreate the atmosphere in which Hogarth would have lived and worked but alas there may be size constraints here. I leave feeling that this house falls into the same category as the Handel House Museum and the Charles Dicken’s House Museum and I implore the curators to visit the Sir John Soane Museum and/or Dennis Sever’s House to soak up the atmosphere and coat every surface in their house with it.
As this house is free to visit, I do suggest going. The architecture is not much interesting in the abstract, but when compared to other houses of this era that have survived it is a very good example of a small house. However, perhaps as you may feel your trip to Chiswick rather short if you only go to Hogarth’s House, I do suggest then going next door to Chiswick House & Gardens and observe what Lord Burlington would have been up to, inspiring Hogarth no doubt if he were to take a ladder and peer over the wall of his neighbour!
When visited: June 2012
House * out of 5: **
Garden * out of 5: *