Review: Grayson Perry's "The Vanity of Small Differences" at Pitzhanger Manor

Review: Grayson Perry's "The Vanity of Small Differences" at Pitzhanger Manor

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the opening of Grayson Perry's exhibition, "The Vanity of Small Differences," at Pitzhanger Manor. This event marks the first time Perry’s six large-scale tapestries are showcased in the very home where William Hogarth’s "A Rake’s Progress," the inspiration for Perry’s work, was originally displayed. This exhibition beautifully unites the works of two of Britain’s sharpest social commentators under one historic roof in Ealing.

Perry’s tapestries offer a modern take on Hogarth’s "A Rake’s Progress," a series of eight paintings from the 18th century that tell the tale of Tom Rakewell’s journey from wealth to destitution in London. These original paintings were acquired 222 years ago by Sir John Soane’s wife to be displayed at Pitzhanger. Although the Soanes eventually moved their collection to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Pitzhanger continues to feature a full set of 18th-century engravings of "A Rake’s Progress" in the Soane’s drawing room, now vibrantly adorned with red walls. This exhibition allows visitors to uniquely compare and contrast both artists' detailed explorations of societal themes within their original context.

Grayson Perry’s tapestries delve into themes of class mobility and consumer culture. Perry explains, “The tapestries tell the story of class mobility, for I think nothing has as strong an influence on our aesthetic taste as the social class in which we grow up. I am interested in the politics of consumerism and the story of popular design but, for this project, I focus on the emotional investment we make in the things we choose to live with, wear, eat, read, or drive. Class and taste run deep in our character—we care. This emotional charge is what draws me to a subject.”

This exhibition is particularly significant for Ealing, featuring art of exceptional quality and numerous semi-local connections. The William Morris Willow Bough wallpaper, for example, pays homage to Morris, a West Londoner from Hammersmith. Cath Kidston, whose bag features in the fourth tapestry, is a W4 resident, and the women’s dresses in the same tapestry wouldn’t look out of place in a Boden catalogue, with Boden’s headquarters situated in Park Royal.

In summary, "The Vanity of Small Differences" is an engaging and thought-provoking exhibition that offers a profound reflection on contemporary society. I highly recommend visiting Pitzhanger Manor to experience these striking tapestries and the fascinating dialogue they establish with Hogarth’s iconic works. This exhibition is a must-see, seamlessly blending historical and modern social commentary through exceptional artistry.

Visit Instagram to watch the reel of the opening party.