When Hogarth visited France in 1748, joining the trippers flooding to the newly opened continent after the war of the Austrian succession, he was arrested as a spy while sketching in Calais. Enraged, he immediately dramatised the event in The Gate of Calais, later turned into a bestselling print. In his painting, the town walls act as a great proscenium arch, framing a brightly lit stage where a fat cleric licks his lips as the cook carries the “Roast Beef of Old England” to the British inn – and Hogarth himself peers over a wall, like a stagehand making notes in the wings. Given his disdain of France as a land of “poverty, slavery and insolence”, it’s a surprise to learn that the Hogarth exhibition in Paris, due to reach Tate Britain in February, has been the Louvre’s most successful autumn exhibition for years. Instead of launching cries of xenophobia, French critics and visitors have simply accepted Hogarth’s polemic as inevitable for his time.
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