Why so? Because you find there the love of the classical and of classical learning, with an admixture of the Gothic and the Romantic, put together with the almost undiscriminating enthusiasm of a magpie. So a cast of the Apollo Belvedere overlooks the sarcophagus of King Seti 1 in the crypt below; Roman funerary urns lead to the Monk's Parlour crowded with stonework from the old Palace of Westminster; Grecian friezes jostle with medieval gargoyles and stained glass.
The three houses were built piecemeal by Sir John as he acquired them between 1792 and 1823, and the collection is housed for the most part in interlinked extensions that he built at the rear of each property. They were made to accommodate his own ideas about light and space, but the front of each property retains the eighteenth century ideals of space and proportion, though the middle house, number thirteen, has Italianate affectations. The living rooms are light and elegant, the staircases as grand as space will permit, the basement kitchen furnished with contemporary mod-cons, not least one of the earliest cast-iron kitchen ranges.. These are the living rooms of the Man of Taste in the manner of the period, and the extensions an almost humorous shadow side; the museum is thus a marker for the transition from one century to another, from the Classical to the Romantic.
But in the small but ingeniously arranged painting room, we are firmly back in the eighteenth century. Firstly this is the century of the Grand Tour, represented by three Canalettos, where Venice sparkles and bustles between sea and sky, dreamlike as ever. And then, all too grounded, the earthy reality of Hogarth's England, caught in two of his greatest series, The Rake's Progress of c. 1732, and The Election of c.1755. Sir John was astute enough to snap up both at a time when Hogarth's reputation following his death in 1764 had not yet begun its recovery. The two series are too well known to need description here, but they epitomise what we would now recognise as Hogarthian: crowded, rumbunctious, sharply satirical and full of telling detail. This is not Great Art as the twentieth century required it, where colour and form become paramount, but it is no less great for all that, in its narrative, and wit and humanity: the virtues of literature in paint.
We step back into the present century when we step back into Lincoln's Inn Fields. But we take Hogarth with us, in the streets thronging with individuals each wrapped and intent in their own small narratives, jostling for space. Many even appear to jabber loudly at empty air as they walk along. But there is nothing more Hogarthian than the homeless in doorways under sleeping bags and cardboard, sometimes with (in a particularly Hogarth touch) a small dog attached with string. There are so many now, these people whom the wealthy step over as they leave the opera, among a convent Garden scene Hogarth would still recognise. Some Thatcher minister so derided them. I have not seen so many since her long reign. Probably no coincidence...