The Reading Room

Walking Tours of Old Philadelphia

Review Paul Hogarth’s Walking Tours of Old Philadelphia….

Paul Hogarth’s fascination with America is clearly evident in this, the first in a trilogy of ‘walking tour’ books from 1976. As associate professor at the Philadelphia College of Art from 1968 to 1969 he had perfect access to the city’s remarkable architecture and live painting of the buildings, cobbled streets, steeples, domes and lantern towers enabled him to soak up the sense of history inherent in Philadelphia’s DNA.

The book does as it says on the cover, it is a guide to the city; a series of routes designed to take in Philadelphia’s history with sketches and paintings in both colour and black and white. It also showcases Hogarth’s grasp of history, it is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, a taste of things to come with his books on Greene and Durrell.

The walks are accompanied by maps and wonderful snippets of history, there are a number of sketches of different boot scrapes for example, it’s typical of Hogarth’s eye for the less obvious.

The buildings are many and a glorious reminder of Philadelphia’s past history. Their government halls are well represented! From Independence Hall to Congress Hall to Carpenters’ Hall and Old City Hall, Hogarth captures them all as he walks and paints his way through Independence Park and the scene of the first Continental Congress through to Independence Square.

There is something beautifully unique about old American architecture, the houses exude a sense of history whose passing Hogarth clearly laments, indeed publically questioning the city’s approach to restoration projects in 1968. By 1974 his wishes had become realised thanks to the work of the National Park Service who revitalised the old quarter of Philadelphia in time for Hogarth’s work on this book.

What I particularly like about the paintings and drawings in this book is Hogarth’s ability to seamlessly blend intricate detailing with the most simple of shapes. To add a sense of presence and scale he often adds characters to the scene making the painting look deceptively simple when they are far from that.

This then, the first of three books, the second took in Old Boston in 1978 and the third saw a return to America in 1985 for a tour of Old Washington and Alexandria. There is a fascinating dvd of Hogarth working on location, he never used an easel but carried a stool and sat with a piece of paper attached to thick card across his knees. He must have been remarkably patient when coping with curious passers-by and assured of his talent to draw in public. Whilst he sometimes used a camera to capture detail he most often wrote notes in separate books or on the drawing itself to remind him of colours and shades etc.

This series was published in America by three different publishers, they are most easy to find copies in the USA which is bad news for those of us on the other side of the pond! Quality is usually an issue but there is still the odd one in decent condition to be found. I would certainly recommend this for Hogarth fans, the illustrations are superb and there is enough information to make it enjoyable rather than overtly educational.

2 replies »

  1. I visited never visited Philidelphia…(I lived relatively close by)…but am huge fan of Boston.
    The Red Sox of course…but the museums, harbour, historic walks and great shopping and dining.
    An Irish breakfast in pub/restaruant is a feast that should not be missed! I will look for the Boston book…it could be a lovely gift for friends I know!

    Like

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