Reynolds & Hogarth: Mistake on the Victoria and Albert Museum

We’ve all been there. That sinking feeling when you’ve realise you’ve made a mistake (I’ll confess, I’ve used the wrong ‘its’ on Twitter more than once).

But you rarely find a glaring error on the front of an important London institution.

Imagine my shock therefore, when it turns out there’s been a mistake on the Victoria and Albert Museum for over 100 years!

mistake victoria and albert museum

Only now has it been unearthed, and it concerns the figures along the facade, put there in 1905 to celebrate 32 eminent artistic personalities; artists, craftsmen, architects and sculptors.

mistake victoria and albert museum

A Closer look

Look long and hard at the two figures below, to the right is Joshua Reynolds – portrait painted to England’s great and good during the 18th century. To the left is William Hogarth – 18th century engraver and unforgiving satirist of England culture.

mistake victoria and albert museum

Robin Simon (British Art Historian and Critic) has paid a lot of attention to these figures and believes there’s been a mix up.

The clue is in what they’re holding; why does our engraver (Hogarth) hold a painter’s palette?

mistake victoria and albert museum

Meanwhile Reynolds (the painter) clutch an engraving plate?

mistake victoria and albert museum
mistake victoria and albert museum

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The funny thing is that in life the pair were nothing alike either in art or personality. Reynolds enjoyed his position as portrait painter to the upper classes and establishment, while Hogarth mercilessly satirised them in his pictures.

mistake victoria and albert museum

The mistake was acknowledged by the Victoria and Albert Museum; “It is true that an error was made in the positioning of these two statues when they were created” but they’ve not indicated that they’ll correct them.

And I don’t think they should, the statues and inscriptions were carved in situ, so who knows when the figures ended up with the wrong names below them.

The final element of the story I enjoy, is that all other figures on the facade turn slightly in, as if in conversation with their artistic contemporaries. These two, because of the swap instead turn away – politely ignoring each other!

mistake victoria and albert museum

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1 Comment

  • Stephen Barker


    To be fair in his self portrait Hogarth does depict himself holding an artist’s palette and it does look like him. The other statue is a bit generic apart from what he is holding in his left hand.

    December 28, 2019 at 7:38 pm

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