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Grayson Perry exhibition at London’s Pitzhanger shows monumental tapestries

A Grayson Perry exhibition is coming to one of London’s hidden gem art galleries — and it promises to bring a splash of colour and politics to visitors in summer 2024.

Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in West London will open Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences on 10 July 2024. The show sees the titular set of six large-scale tapestries go on display, with each one offering a satirical examination of class in Britain.

The tapestries have been touring the UK, and they have already made stops in Rotherham, Lincoln, Edinburgh and Woking. What makes their arrival in London even more exciting is that Pitzhanger has a unique history with the centuries-old paintings that inspired Perry to make them.

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The Turner Prize winner's colourful tapestries offer a 21st century re-examination of William Hogarth's A Rake's Progress, which is one of the most famous satirical paintings in the world. It’s actually a set of eight artworks, and in them Hogarth depicts a riches-to-rags tale of Tom Rakewell in 18th-century London.

Grayson Perry tapestry featuring a man singing and other cartoonish depictions
Grayson Perry, The Agony in the Car Park, 2012. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Grayson Perry.

Tom is the title’s ‘Rake’ and is a man who inherits a fortune from his city merchant father only to fritter it away on an extravagant lifestyle which ultimately leads to his downfall.

Hogarth’s original paintings were created in 1734. In 1802 — nearly 40 years after Hogarth’s death — famed English architect Sir John Soane purchased the paintings from their then-owner William Thomas Beckford.

He hung them in pride of place at his country house, which was Pitzhanger Manor. This means this is the very first time The Vanity of Small Differences has been displayed in a building connected to Hogarth’s original works.

The Soanes subsequently moved with their art collections to their home in central London, which is now Sir John Soane’s Museum and is where A Rake’s Progress can still be seen to this day.

Taking Hogarth’s famed series as a starting point, Perry’s tapestries depict a corresponding fable of class, taste and social mobility.

Tapestry depicting a couple running from a rainbow and a couple eating a meal
Grayson Perry, Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, 2012. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Grayson Perry

Weaving the complex ‘class journey’ of the fictional protagonist Tim Rakewell, the tapestries include many of the characters, incidents and objects Grayson Perry encountered on his journeys throughout Sunderland, Tunbridge Wells and the Cotswolds for the BAFTA award-winning television series All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry.

While Pitzhanger no longer has the original Hogarth paintings to show, it does continue to display a full series of 18th century framed engravings of the eight paintings.

Therefore, visitors to the Perry exhibition will be in the unique position to be able to compare and contrast both intricately detailed morality tales in the former home of Hogarth’s series.

Clare Gough, Director of Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, said she was “delighted” to be showcasing Grayson Perry's textile works.

She said that “this exhibition not only resonates with Soane’s own display of William Hogarth’s paintings here at Pitzhanger, but also continues our mission to present thought-provoking art that reflects society today.”

The neo-classical facade of Pitzhanger Manor house with columns and statues
The Façade of Pitzhanger Manor © Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery. Photo by Andy Stagg

The Vanity of Small Differences is owned by the British nation, as they are jointly held by the Arts Council Collection and the British Council Collection.

While the exhibition will close just as 2024 comes to end, Perry fans won’t have long to wait to see another London exhibition of his work.

2025 is a big year for the artist as he turns 65. To mark the occasion, the Wallace Collection will open a Grayson Perry birthday exhibition which will see brand new works paired with historical items that inspired them. The director of the Wallace Collection Dr Xavier Bray says his show will “surprise and intrigue visitors.”

And if you can’t make it to London to see The Vanity of Small Differences then don’t fear. The essential accompanying book on the works is still available, and it reproduces the tapestries in full and is a book covered in real cloth too, in a nod to the original artworks.

Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences opens at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in London on 10 July and runs until 8 December 2024.

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