Channel 4 have the documentary and some great articles about the tapestries here:
The story tells a tale of little Timmy being born to adoring worshippers (cage fighters), his upbringing in Sunderland and determination to escape the lower class system by dating a middle class girl.
Life improves financially for Timmy and the tapestries progress to show later life with a child and his own successful business.
The last two tapestries shows Timmy as a upper class man with a mansion and the final scene, a car crash ending his life with a new younger model blonde wife.
It’s probably the first time I’ve not just looked at a piece of art and saw a picture, but looked at the process. It was the process that took my focus through the Christmas holidays and that’s what really interested me.
Grayson took his idea of six scenes (typing tapestries every time is too long a word) from a similar idea, A Rakes Progress by William Hogarth. These eight scenes painted in 1733 tell the story of Tom Rakewell. The paintings show eight scenes in Toms life:
The Heir – Tom inheriting a fortune and getting a new suit.
The Levee – The spending continues, of course one must keep up appearances.
The Orgy – I think there’s a bible story that goes this way. One thing I’m beginning to notice is the small things in paintings. In this painting we see one woman distracting Tom while another relieves him of his watch.
The Arrest – While travelling Tom is stopped by debt collectors, thankfully his love Sarah Young is around to pay the debt and he escapes prison. The bailiffs have leeks in their caps because it’s St David’s day.
The Marriage – Nope, not to his love but to a rich old lady.
The Gaming House – We’ve been here before.
The Prison – Fleet prison, the debtors prison, second wealth squandered (I don’t think they had gamblers anonymous back then!)
The madhouse – Bedlam (Bethlem hospital) This picture includes a naked man in the background who thinks he is the king.
I haven’t shown the images, because I hope I’m just tempting you to look more into this yourself. This link is for the home of the paintings and tells you more about them.
Although the idea for Graysons scenes came from Hogarth each scene has another image that inspired him.
The adoration of the cage fighters is inspired by The Adoration of the shepherds by Mategna.
The agony in the car park – The Isenheim Altarpiece
The expulsion from No 8 Eden close – Masaccio’s Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden
The annunciation of the Virgin deal – The annunciation by Robert Campin
The upper classes at bay – Mr & Mrs Andrews (Thomas Gainsborough)
#Lamentation – Rogier Van der Waydens lamentation.
I know what you’re thinking… how can I write an article about an artist but fill it with paintings from other artists. I want to try and get you to look further than you might normally do.
For me, this was an opportunity to see more than just a bunch of tapestries. Too often I see the image but not the story behind. Once I started delving into Grayson’s inspiration I saw more than the modern day tale, I saw, through A Rake’s progress, history repeating itself.