There are, perhaps, two types of exhibition visitor. Those who read the texts on the walls and those who don’t. Personally, I instinctively tend towards the latter group, which is no doubt often my loss. In the case of Hogarth and Europe at Tate Britain, however, ignoring all the verbiage would be a huge advantage.
This concentrates with anxious obsessiveness on the topics of empire and slavery (with a little condemnation of sexism on the side) and has infuriated several of my colleagues: ‘wokeish drivel’ (Sunday Times), ‘non-aperçus — which range from the crass to the asinine’ (New Statesman), ‘some quite drastic misreadings’ (Observer). Well, I’m not going to dissent from any of those judgments. But on the other hand, if you just look at the pictures hung on the walls, you will find a magnificent sequence of works by Hogarth and also by his contemporaries in France, Italy and the Netherlands.