It’s been a while since we last had an art appreciation post. So, in honour of his birthday, here is William Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-mode.
William Hogarth (10 November 1697 - 26 October 1764) was an English painter and printmaker perhaps best known for his satire and editorial cartoons. Marriage à-la-mode was a series of six paintings lambasting upper class society and arranged marriages. The images are intended to tell a story.
In order, they are as follows:
1. The Marriage Settlement. Here we see the aged and poor Earl arranging marriage for his son to the daughter of a wealthy but frugal merchant. The Earl’s son is completely taken with himself (and is, in fact, gazing at his own reflection), while the merchant’s daughter is listening to a young lawyer.
2. The Tête à Tête. Already the marriage is going badly. The second painting shows the pair and their home in disarray after separate nights of partying, gambling, and carousing. Their steward is leaving the room in disgust, with a hand full of bills and receipts.
3. The Inspection. Wherein the Earl’s son is visiting the doctor, having contracted a venereal disease. We are led to believe that the young girl next to him is his mistress.
4. The Toilette. The Earl has died, making his son the Earl and his wife the Countess. we are also led to believe (by the presence of a teething coral on her chair) that she is now a mother. The Countess is engaging in the morning practice of holding a toilette, or reception, in her bedroom. Once again, she is talking to the young lawyer - and seeming quite familiar together!
5. The Bagnio. The word ‘bagnio’ would have been easily recognizable in the 1740’s as referring to a place where one could get a room for the night with no questions asked. This painting reveals the Earl having discovered his wife and her lover (the lawyer). The lawyer has fatally wounded the Earl, and is escaping out the window while the Countess begs her husband for forgiveness.
6. The Lady’s Death. The final scene in the story. The Countess, back in her father’s home, has committed suicide after the execution of her lover.