Roast beef and ‘woke warriors’: Hogarth exhibition re-examines Britain’s past

London Letter: The artist’s outlook was connected with Europe but firmly rooted in his Englishness

‘O the Roast Beef of England’,  also called the Gate of Calais, by William Hogarth. Photograph:   Imagno/Getty Images

‘O the Roast Beef of England’, also called the Gate of Calais, by William Hogarth. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

When Britain’s foreign secretary Liz Truss hosted European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday evening at Chevening House, her grace and favour mansion in Kent, she welcomed him with a slap-up meal. Their dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and Kent apple pie was the most British menu possible short of serving up the Roast Beef of Old England.

Henry Fielding’s patriotic ballad was the inspiration for William Hogarth’s 1748 painting which hangs in Tate Britain and is at the heart of an exhibition there called Hogarth and Europe (until March 20th). The picture, also called the Gate of Calais, shows a fat friar inspecting a huge side of beef, surrounded by superstitious peasant women and scrawny French soldiers.

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