Beer Street – Larger Print
Gin Lane – Larger Print
History of Gin and the Gin Craze
This week on Pub Convos, I draw inspiration on my recent escapade down the local pub. I was sat with a pint of ale thinking about what to write for this week and so happened to join in a conversation about art with a couple of patrons, so I thought why not combine art and drink together. This week we talk about the satirical depiction of addiction and poverty in 18th century Britain at the height of the Gin Craze by William Hogarth – Beer Street and Gin Lane
The Gin Craze:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, relations between England and France were rocky to say the least, the English government encouraged the consumption of gin by allowing unlicensed production of the spirit in an attempt to reduce importation of French brandy.
This created an abundant supply of gin to the market at a cheap price and the public developed a taste for it. Gin bars popped up across London and started the Gin Craze. However, the consumption of gin was widely blame for social problems and the government had to step in with the Gin Act of 1736. This proved to be unpopular and was repealed shortly after.
Beer Street and Gin Lane:
In 1751, William Hogarth issued 2 prints titled Beer Street and Gin Lane in support of reducing gin consumption in England. These 2 prints depict opposing portrayals of the residents that drink beer and those who drank gin. These 2 prints can be seen at the top of this article and if you want a closer look links are provided.
There is a stark contrast in which the residents of Beer Street all look well nourished, happy, and prosperous while those of Gin Lane are of despair, malnourished and decay.
A closer look at Gin Lane shows the focus of the print where a syphilis ridden mother loses grip of her child while reaching for a pinch of snuff, this might be a comment on how gin brings out other vices and causes absent mindedness. On the left of that we see that a man is forced to fight over a bone with a dog, this can be depicted as a reduction of man to its animalistic state due to the consumption of gin. Lastly in the top right corner we see that a barber has hung himself due to the lack of business while in contrast the pawn shop depicted on the left of the print is thriving depicting that people have squandered their money and possession away and not being able to afford basic services such as a barber.
In Beer Street, we can see the sign painter on top of a ladder signifying the height of prosperity and the builders in the background building society up in a positive manner. Most of the residents are also seen to be plump and signifies a healthy population. There is a weird exception to all the positiveness on Beer Street in the building on the right which seems to be identical to the pawn shop on Gin Lane, this one on Beer Street shows that it is falling apart, an implication that no one would require to pawn their belongings to fuel their addictions.
There are many more details and nuances that are portrayed in these 2 prints and follows many themes and hidden meaning. The use of art to portray and satirise social issues have been used for centuries and I think that it is an effective visual way to convey a message. You might think that we have movies and tv shows that can do that and I agree but I also would like to say a picture (or two) is worth a thousand words.