In this painting of 1750, Hogarth offers us a noisy, chaotic, humorous version of events from the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, five years before. At the top of the Tottenham Court Road, the northern edge of London, Guardsmen are gathering in preparation for their march to camp on Finchley Common. The clamour of London life is intensified by the news that the invading Jacobite army of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ has reached Derby, and the soldiers must be in place to defend London.
The painting is divided down moral lines. The left of the canvas represents healthy, patriotic, Protestant Britain, embodied in ale drinking at the Adam & Eve tavern and manly boxing, while the right is a roll call of vices. The main evil presented is Jacobitism, the movement to restore the Catholic House of Stuart to the British throne. Elsewhere on the right of the painting, an inebriated soldier reaches for gin, street vendors calling their wares are robbed and assaulted, while harlots shout prayers and farewells to the departing soldiers from the windows of a brothel, below yowling cats.
At the centre of The March of the Guards to Finchley is a Grenadier of the 1st regiment of Foot Guards, caught in a moment of indecision between the two sides – past and present, life and death, duty and desertion. Hanging on the arm of the Grenadier, is his pregnant girlfriend, who sings one of the patriotic ballads she sells. Tugging on his other arm is a Catholic woman who shouts and waves Jacobite propaganda – perhaps an ex, reminding him of previous loyalties.
About the artist
William Hogarth was a leading British artist of the eighteenth century. He is best known today for his series of sequential paintings such as The Rake’s Progress and Marriage-a-la-Mode, which he reproduced and sold as engravings, which were and remain hugely popular. Hogarth’s work engaged squarely with the world around him, not as literal records of places or events, but as complex political, social and moral comment. He sought to raise appreciation for British Art, so it enjoyed the same level of esteem as enjoyed at the time by artists from continental Europe.
Hogarth used his creativity to effect social change and to direct awareness to particular causes and issues. His support for the Foundling Hospital was unstinting and practical, whether using his artistic skills or supervising wet nurses fostering children for the Hospital in and around Chiswick, where he had a home.