Grayson Perry at Pitzhanger Manor

Image: Grayson Perry tapestry, Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close

Exhibition inspired by William Hogarth’s Rakes Progress

By Lucinda MacPherson

Chiswick’s favourite son, the satirical artist William Hogarth, has inspired an epic exhibition by Sir Grayson Perry, coming to Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in Ealing from July 10 to December 8, 2024.

The Vanity of Small Differences stands as a modern-day counterpart to William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress”, one of Hogarth’s most celebrated series.

Hogarth’s 18th century series of eight paintings chronicled the rise and fall of Tom Rakewell, an ambitious yet morally corrupt character whose pursuit of pleasure led to his eventual downfall.

His original paintings were bought by Sir John Soane’s wife 222 years ago to be displayed at Pitzhanger Manor. The Soanes subsequently moved with their art collections to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. However, Pitzhanger continues to display a full series of framed 18th century engravings of A Rake’s Progress in their original setting of the vibrant red walls of the Soane’s drawing room.

Image: William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress plate 2; Surrounded by artists and professors

The rise and fall of Tom Rakewell mark II – 21st century tech entrepreneur

Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences applies this satirical tradition to the 21st century. Six huge tapestries narrate the life of tech entrepreneur Tim Rakewell and how he navigates modern British society. This contemporary series, inspired by Hogarth, examines how class influences aesthetic taste and personal identity.

Sir Grayson Perry also tackles subjects that are universally human: identity, gender, social status, sexuality and religion. The viewer can see in the tapestries autobiographical references to the artist’s childhood, his family, and his cross-dressing along with questions about décor and decorum, class and taste.

Taking Hogarth’s famed series as a starting point, Grayson Perry’s tapestries shows the 21st century Tim Rakewell’s ‘class journey’ and include many of the characters, incidents and objects Grayson Perry encountered on his journeys throughout Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and The Cotswolds for the BAFTA award-winning television series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry.

Grayson Perry said: The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up.

“I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the story of popular design but, for this project, I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read, or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character—we care. This emotional charge is what draws me to a subject.”

Image: 1. Grayson Perry, The Adoration of the Cage Fighters

Image: 2. Grayson Perry, The Agony in the Car Park

Image: 3. Grayson Perry, Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close

Image: 4. Grayson Perry, The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal

Image: 5. Grayson Perry, The Upper Class at Bay

Image: 6. Grayson Perry, #Lamentation

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to compare and contrast both intricately detailed morality tales in the home of Hogarth’s series, providing a unique historical context.

Clare Gough, Director of Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, said:

“We are delighted to showcase Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ at Pitzhanger. This exhibition not only resonates with Soane’s own display of William Hogarth’s paintings here at Pitzhanger, but also continues our mission to present thought-provoking art that reflects society today.

“We hope to draw in a wide and diverse audience to enjoy these witty and satirical tapestries.”

Open Wednesday to Sunday 10am–5pm, including Bank Holidays (First Thursday of the Month: 10am–8pm)

Book tickets – pitzhanger.org.uk/grayson-perry

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