Gaze Upon Gin’s Deadly Past at the Tate Britain
The most famous images from that first gin craze are “Gin Lane” and its sister piece, “Beer Street,” by William Hogarth. Created in the mid-1700’s, both are streetscapes and were part of a campaign against the sale of cheap gin, which at the time was sold by about one in four houses in London. “Gin Lane” depicts a drunken mother dropping her child, a beggar and his dog fighting for a bone, people fighting in the street and lining up at the pawnbroker, and a burial in the background. Things are a lot rosier on “Beer Street,” where residents are fat and happy, there’s a butcher and a fish wife with bountiful wares, while others are working in the background, improving the city while the pawnbroker goes out of business. The prints were published as a pair, and they, along with social commentary by Hogarth’s friend Henry Fielding, lead to the Gin Act, which prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants while upping fees, effectively shutting down many of the small gin shops. “Gin Lane” is displayed at Tate Britain while “Beer Street” is usually at the British Museum, but sadly, isn’t on display right now.
Tate Britain, Millbank, Westminster; entry free