It was the major cultural fashion immediately before Romanticism: big mistake. Two-and-a-half centuries later, the look of the 18th century pretty remains the default setting for “datedness”. The Classical Revival buildings, the flouncy clothes, the typefaces, almost everything directly portrayed in London: 1753 seems impossibly fubsily alien: WHAT WERE WE THINKING? London itself was still parochial enough be represented by one sweeping view north from the single curve of river between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge – and you can see forests and woods where the houses end. There’s a staggering complacency to the Official Art: the generals and heroes of the First Empire look sleekly overfed, even the satire (Hogarth wall-to-wall) seems a bit pleased with itself.

But this is an exhibition of prints not paintings, and we jumpcut to something colour might have glossed over. The unbroken black-and-white detail – in the fonts of playbills, in pictures of the fashionable walking in the park, in Sir Joshua Reynolds’s mezzotint repros of his portraits of the rich and Famous – is crabbed and nervously obsessive: every leaf is drawn, every brick inked in; the effect is of dark stormclouds of busy SOMETHING swarming up behind society as we know it; there’s a shared mood subcurrent of panic, established in the regions of the image where the mechanical need to complete is probably overriding conscious inspired control. Of course there right in the middle are the founders of the Gothic Revival – Prime Minister’s son Horace Walpole and his gay mafia of pals semi-mockingly invoking both the sublime and the absurd, Piranesi recasting the scaffolding for Westminster Bridge as some titanic nightmare construction project imposed as a punishment in hell. But you can see they had their Big Idea – for the pleasant thrill of terror in the swirl and crazy tracery of the depicted setting – confirmed daily, in this unintended weird finickiness of detail in hack handbills and engravings on sale en masse in highstreet shops.