Writing about The Vanity of Small Differences, Grayson Perry’s charming and challenging tapestries, reminds me how connected art should be. It brings together themes on social mobility referred to as far back as the eighteenth century. It nods to the great Italian Renaissance frescoes of Masaccio. And on tour and on television the series brings serious art to a wide audience.
Firstly William Hogarth and The Rake’s Progress, a contemporary view of London life in the eighteenth century. The series of eight paintings of 1732-1734 depict the story of a young rake, Tim Rakewell, who on inheriting his fathers fortunes, wastes all the wealth on high life, gambling and prostitution. His inevitable fall concludes with his arrest for bankruptcy and final demise in squalor in the Bedlam asylum. The eight paintings can be seen in the Sir John Sloane Museum in London. They were engraved in 1734 and the subsequent prints became a very popular satirical commentary of the time. Look for all the detail in Hogarths engraving and compare with the similar approach taken by Perry.
Grayson Perry uses art historical ideas in his tapestries. The Expulsion from No. 8 Eden Close reminds me so much of Masaccio’s famous Frescoes from the Brancusi Chapel in Florence. Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, or Masaccio (1401-1428) was the first artist to bring real perspective to his work setting the scene for the great Italian Renaissance masters. We saw the Brancusi chapel in 2019 including the artists great depiction of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Look for the postures employed by Masaccio and Grayson Perry depicting their respective expulsions. Note also the removal of the fig leaves from Masaccio’s fresco in the renovation of 1980. These had been added sometime after the original work.
Finally The Vanity of Small Differences has been continually on tour. We saw it in 2016 in Australia, and it has been travelling the U.K. most of 2019 to such places as Penzance, Norwich, Rochdale and Hereford. It is currently at the Dick Institute, Kilmarnock. The series was produced to coincide with the Channel 4 programme in 2012 entitled All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry. The tapestries evoke The artists thoughts of his travels, through Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds.
The series employs titles familiar with the paintings of the Renaissance and medieval painting such as The Adoration (of the Cage Fighters), The Agony (in the Car Park), The Expulsion (from No. 8 Eden Close), The Annunciation (of the Virgin Deal), and the Lamentation. The Upper Class at Bay, takes inspiration from Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr & Mrs Andrews in The National Gallery. Tim Rakewell, the namesake of Hogarths anti hero is also one of the main characters.
Do try and see this series of tapestries. I regard it as a masterpiece for the twenty first century.