Monday, November 11, 2013

Hogarth and the Art of Messy Chic

William Hogarth (1697-1764) understood what it meant to really inhabit a room. In his paintings, he shows ordinary people enjoying their personal spaces in a manner that can only be described as -- shall we say -- "soulful." Beds are left unmade, chairs are toppled on their sides, tablecloths are wine-bespattered, and there's usually at least one person so brutally hungover they can barely sit up straight. This is the world of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker -- unbridled, sensuous and flagrantly alive.

I love it.

This is what rooms are for, people. For living in. Leafing through design magazines it's easy to get the impression that a house should be perfect. But trying to be perfect is a losing proposition because there's no endpoint -- you'll never reach it. (I speak as an ex-perfectionist.) 
("Marriage a la Mode: The Tete a Tete", 1743)

In a Hogarth painting, tables aren't for sitting primly at--they're for leaning on, eating on, gambling on, putting feet on and sometimes drooling on. They may be spread with white tablecloths, but they're usually stained. Chairs are for perching on sideways, scooching across the room, or teetering backwards on so no one else can see your cards. Okay, maybe his characters push the line a little, but erring on the side of messiness is better than living  in a room that doesn't accommodate any degree of personal freedom, don't you find?

A perfect room intimidates. It foists an unspoken question upon the visitor: "Can you live up to me?" I actually know of a home where nothing but clear-colored drinks are served. Perhaps it works for the people who live there, but I feel strongly that our personal spaces should be a judgment-free refuge, and if there's no room allowed for human error -- or comfort, for that matter -- I think I would unlock the front door every night with a heavy heart.  
("Marriage a la Mode: The Settlement", 1743)

A home should be lived in, not worshipped. So the floors get scuffed. So the furniture gets worn. So the tables get scratched. So what? Why do you think chefs reach for their favorite seasoned cast-iron pan and not a new teflon one when they want to cook something that's got their heart and soul in it? That's right -- because the cast-iron one is a repository of all the love that's been inside it. Your house is no different.

So make it interesting.
Make it creative.
Make it loud.
Make it convivial and filled with laughter and ideas and crazy plans and dream projects and anything else that gets your heart pounding faster.

And for Hogarth's sake, make it messy.

("The Orgy", 1735)


Editor's Note: 
Stare at one of Hogarth's paintings long enough and you can practically HEAR it -- a polyglot cacophony of laughter, grunts and high-pitched squeals. If you want to hear the way I think the above painting would sound if it came to life, click HERE.

32 comments:

Lily said...

Oh Lisa, I so agree- the uproarious panache of the Georgian era is the perfect template for a house's style! It cannot be bought in one fell swoop but must be cobbled together with the souvenirs of adventures, prizes of lifelong treasure hunt... Can't wait to see how you touch on this in your book!
-Lily

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Lily: That will have to go in the second book. I'm making a note of it. :)

mary said...

Have you been to Dennis Severs' house in Spitalfields? One of the rooms is a recreation of the morning after Hogarth's Midnight Modern Conversation. With the chamber pot in the corner, but maybe you wouldn't want to go quite so far!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

This is precisely why you must, and I mean must, get to the Dennis Sever's House posthaste!

Traci Hendrix Hart said...

These paintings remind me of the children's books by Don and Audrey Wood...The Napping House, Heckedy Peg...perhaps King Bidgood's in the Bathtub was inspired by Hogarth?!? Water, bubbles, everywhere! Parties in the tub! Battles waged amongst the rubber ducks! Such uproarious scenes practically BEG to be joined...and yes, a well lived home invites you to partake just the same. I'm ALL for less tidying and more LIVING! Thank you for a delightful perspective!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

mary:
So strange you should mention Dennis Severs... I just finished answering an interview for a Dutch magazine and wrote all about it!

I've been lucky enough to visit THREE times, most recently last Xmas for a candlelit evening tour. Yes, that room with the tipped-over chair is so wonderful! And I love the all piles of dried lavender in the corners of the rooms -- put there in a valiant attempt to keep the stench of 18th century London out when the wind blew through the floorboards. :)

xx

gorgeousevents said...

Loved the audio ! Italian ? Of course, THEY are the best when it comes to the art of messy chic. Just how one imagines a really wonderful evening.....lively, convivial, generous, perhaps a little drama......a little too much to drink.....good food, gossipy converstion.....completely enjoyable......

Modern Traditionalist said...

Hear hear! We're just now looking at purchasing our first home, which has sent me into a dizzying spiral of design research. I find myself struggling against the ideal of perfection - there is this overwhelming sense of "keeping up with the joneses" online with all of the design blogs, digital magazines and Instagram. My senses are exhausted and after a while, every perfectly styled room starts to look identical to the next. This was a most welcome palate cleanser!

MT

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

Between you and your aesthetic, my favorite book title "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life" (Mary Randolph Carter) and Shauna Niequist's "Bread & Wine"----YOUR upcoming book, WELL, I am a VERY happy woman living a joy-FILLED, messy life!

em said...

No other similarities (that I know of), but Carl Larsson was another "messy" painter - perhaps not quite as messy as Hogarth, but lots of stuff in his paintings showed that real people with kids lived in the house.
Not much irritates me as much as people who always excuse the mess - especially if there is no mess!
Margaretha
whose home
would get
Hogarth to pick
up his brushes

WMM said...

Great post, Lisa!

I like a party where there is wine spilled and crumbs dropped and someone bumps into the furniture while dancing, so I think Hogarth was on to something! How different from his contemporaries!

Emily said...

Living life for real. The over decorated, unreal room. If you must have one, save it for the unused formal living room you never enter and keep it at that!

helen tilston said...

Hello Lisa

Oh to be included in such a party and have Hogarth present too. One can only imagine the interesting and silly conversations, music and caring that happens.
We are fortunate to have friends who feel as you do about a home.

You write so beautifully Lisa and I will anxiously await your book

Helen xx

Lisa Thomson said...

OOOOoh, I love this idea of LIVING with joy, vivacity and mess! Phooey to perfection. Those paintings are stunning.

This is why I love movies like Moonstruck where the set is so natural, homey and familial-Italian of course. Thanks for this wonderful post, Lisa.

Kathryn said...

Lovely, messy post. Thanks!

donna baker said...

Please Lisa, do tell us. How does one become an ex-perfectionist. I so need to learn how.

katy gilmore said...

What a post! - perfect for pre-Thanksgiving when the house will fill with happy chaos! And thanks also the commenter above who mentioned the Wood books - I know "The Napping House" and now am going to search for more. Thank you and thank you Lisa - the buzz is building in anticipation of YOUR book!

mary said...

Of course, Hogarth's own house (in Chiswick) is pristine and neat - or at least it is now!

noreen said...

interesting! is this also the time of jan steen? story art. i love your take on it. let's LIVE at home, and enjoy each other. joy to you, n

Reyes said...

Oh, what a post! There is a book that illustrates this to a T "A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life" by Mary Randolph Carter. Love it!

JudyMac said...

Hi, Lisa
Your post really hits the nail on the head. A home should be filled with things you love and kept in a manner that is comfortable with all who dwell therein. Getting over being a perfectionist means, in my opinion, learning to relax and go with the flow. There are other things to partake of in life other than trying to keep a sterile house.
Keep the good stuff coming!

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dervla kelly said...

yup i totally agree. I think my office at work achieves this sentiment completely - but at home i have trouble making the messy look look good (or i suppose that's the point - i just need to look at it differently).

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Ode to Beatha said...

I love your blog, but I had to laugh a bit at your Hogarth post. I had never looked at this series that way before...Hogarth painted these pictures as a didactic in how NOT to live. You have a mix of two series here - the Rake's Progress and Marriage a la Mode. One shows a marriage arranged for money, a no good, cheating husband with Syphillis (see the black marks on his neck, which in subsequent pictures show up on their baby), a wife who spends too much, parties an flirts and drinks. In the end, the husband is murdered by the wife's lover and the wife poison's herself. The picture of everyone at the table is a brothel scene from The Rake's Progress. Hogarth even tried to make the interiors tacky to show that these were not people of quality - note the weird bric-a-brac on the fireplace. Thanks for the great post and for the opportunity to use my Art History degree today!

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Laura said...

Just arrived here via Persephone Books and am so glad I did...this is the best post I have read in a long time, and nails a feeling I've had for ages but couldn't quite put my finger on. Thanks! I'm off to splash wine around in my living room ;)

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