The story of The March of the Guards to Finchley
Rhona Levene looks at the stories behind The March of the Guards to Finchley, which you can see in the Foundling Museum. In April Rhona will be leading some of the walks in the Footprints of London River Walks Festival – keep a look out for more details on http://footprintsoflondon.com/walks
The stories behind Hogarth’s THE MARCH OF THE GUARDS TO FINCHLEY are many-fold.
Between 1749/1750 when William Hogarth executed this painting, it was just after the second Jacobite Rebellion (1745). Against the backdrop of the uneasy union between Scotland and England since the 1707 Act of Union which, apart from favouring Scottish landlords, also put an end to the hopes to have a Stuart on the throne to succeed Queen Anne. Here we see the hastily convened and rather dishevelled guards assembling at the Tottenham Court Turnpike on their way to what they hope will be the final battle in Scotland via the hills of the village of Finchley.
Hogarth’s attempt at humour didn’t go down well with the King – there is a story that the painting was originally to be presented to King George II but on seeing a print of the work, rather than being amused, the King took offence at what he thought was an insult to his fighting soldiers. Hogarth then changed the inscription and offered it to the King of Prussia instead.
The painting courted further controversy when it was offered through a lottery of 2000 tickets but it seems only 1840 tickets were sold and depending on which version of the story you prefer – either it was deemed unsuitable for the lady with the winning ticket to own – or Hogarth gave so many tickets to the Foundling Hospital that – surprise, surprise, they won the painting. It is still in today’s Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square. In 2002 a grant of £3.9million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMFO) and a supporting contribution of £100,000 from the National Arts Collections Fund made it possible for the Foundling Museum to buy the painting from the Coram Foundation.
The painting is really humorous and it’s one of those paintings where the more you look the more you see – here’s just a few of the stories depicted.
The cats on the roof of the building on the right make reference to “Mother Douglas’s” house of ill repute – and you can see the prostitutes calling out to the soldiers below from the windows of the “cattery” and “Mother” Douglas herself is in the window at the bottom right praying for the safe return of her “Babes of Grace”; the two women in the middle of the painting fighting over the affections of one of the grenadiers; see the leaflets tumbling out of the basket carried by the pregnant woman on the left – they’re copies of “God Save the King”; by contrast the woman on the right is carrying a copy of “The Jacobite Journal” – showing her to be a follower of the Catholic Stuarts; a drunken soldier refuses the water a comrade offers him, preferring instead the gin offered by his wife.
In January 2015 when the topic of satire is a hot topic, we can see that even 260 years ago art and artists were causing controversy and using their work to not just portray real events but also to offer up a topic for discussion.
In the words of artist Grayson Perry RA, 2010 Hogarth Fellow “A seaman, a composer and a painter, and the moving story of the charity they started 270 years ago. It is a recipe of art and care, which still looks after kids today. Coram, Handel, Hogarth, what’s not to love?”