Is it reassuring or depressing to witness that binge drinking, unwanted pregnancy and decline of moral society was as much as a concern in the 18th century as it is now? Today a group of Manchester doctors visited the print collection. Just when they thought they’d have an afternoon away from the ailments associated with drink, addiction and unprotected sex, I presented them with Hogarth’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ – a series of eight prints depicting a young man’s decline into addiction, disease and mental breakdown.
Despite the gloomy prospects of the lead character, Hogarth’s prints are wickedly funny and rich with detail. Like a printed soap opera, the images tell their tales in a brilliantly dramatic way. The lead character, however, rarely enjoys a happy ending.