Marriage A-la-Mode

Method Copper engraving
Artist William Hogarth
Published Invented, Painted, & Published by Wm. Hogarth. According to Act of Parliament April 1st. 1745 [John & Josiah Boydell, London c.1795]
Dimensions Images 350 x 445 mm, Plates 385 x 470 mm, Sheets 480 x 645 mm
Notes Marriage A-la-Mode was the third of Hogarth's great 'moral progresses', a commentary on contemporary concerns over marriage and its exploitation. The set of six plates examines the problems arising in marriages between partners of different classes, and the actions of immoral parents in arranging partnerships for their offspring that, although financially lucrative, were morally flawed. The series is one of the most pessimistic of Hogarth's moral satires, featuring a cast of characters completely devoid of any redeemable quality. Unlike the Harlot's and the Rake's stories, which focus on their destructive impacts upon the well-meaning friends and family, the main players of Marriage A-la-Mode are all inspired by differing but equally detestable motives. As alluded to by the title, the series has a distinctively francophile bent, capitalising on popular English sentiments about aristocratic tastes for all things French, be it in art, culture, fashion, food, or sex, and of course the associated 'French' results of high living, syphilis, and gout. For the preparation of the plates, Hogarth even chose a team of French engravers. The original paintings, executed before his visit to Paris, are now in the National Gallery.

Plate 1: In the elegantly decorated rooms of the cash-strapped Earl Squander, a marriage is contracted between the Earl's son, Viscount Squanderfield, and the daughter of a wealthy merchant. The Earl, his bandaged foot a clear representation of gout, sits in a high backed chair, the mortgage he has taken out for the construction of a new grand house paid for by the merchant, who sits across the table examining the terms of the marriage contract. The Earl, unconcerned by the economic details of the marriage, points to a large depiction of his family tree, the roots of which spread from the loins of William the Conqueror. To the right of the scene, the two young people sit disintered. The petulant merchants daughter receives the attention of a smooth young lawyer, while her vapid fiancee stares absentmindedly at a reflection of his future rival, the black patch on his neck hinting at his hedonistic tendancies and the onset of venereal disease. In the foreground, a pair of dogs are yoked together with a chain, while the paintings on the walls of the room all point to the betrayals, lies, and ultimately destruction, that are to follow from this loveless pairing.

Paulson 158 vi/viii, BM Satires 2688

Plate 2: With the initial excitement of the wedding over, the young couple are shown in their new lodgings, potentially the interior of the grand new house the Earl traded his son for in the first plate. Despite the superficial elegance of the room, upon closer inspection it is shown to be a hasty and poorly arranged jumble of artistic and architectural styles. The paintings range from erotica to devotional portraits of the saints, the neo-classical fireplace sits awkwardly beside a rustic german clock decorated with oriental figures, and the overly large rug has had to be cut and rolled to fit in the room. The surroundings emphasize the mismatched nature of the couple's marriage. They sit apart, on opposite sides of the fire. He, a dissolute nobleman, her, an inelegant commoner. Her lap dog snifs at a bonnet in the husbands pocket, a suggestion of his infidelities earlier in the evening. His wife meanwhile sits with corset unlaced, spread-legged and with her hair tussled. The presence of multiple violin cases and an upturned chair suggest a hasty exit by at least one additional figure upon the husband's return. A harried older servant carries off the family accounts in despair, while another yawns expressively while righting a chair in the parlour.

Paulson 159 v/v, BM Satires 2702

Plate 3: In Dr. Misaubin's 'museum' on St Martin's Lane, the wastrel husband amicably threatens the quack doctor with his walking stick, holding out a pillbox that probably once contained an ineffective cure-all for the young man's syphilis. Squanderfield is flanked by his diminutive mistress, who holds a handkerchief to her lip, and an infuriated prostitute, potentially the source of his syphilis. He seems utterly unconcerned by his predicament, or for the well-being of his companions, despite the conspicuous skull on the apothecary's desk that shows the telltall signs of the disease in its advanced stages. The room itself is a veritable wunderkammer of scientific and natural history curiosities, including a stuffed crocodile and ostrich egg, a wolfs head, a pair of mummies and their cases, blocks of tea, a narwhal horn, various ethnographic items, an articulated skeleton, and a collection of scientific and alchemical instruments.

Paulson 160 iii/iii , BM Satires 2717

Plate 4: While her husband philanders, the newly elevated Countess Squander enjoys her free time at the levee of a fellow nobleman's wife. Time has obviously passed, and with it, the grooming and demeanour of the young lady, whose time in the company of aristocrats has raised her from her previous crassness. Her enraptured partner is the same young lawyer from plate one, who obviously has designs on the Countess and invites her to meet him at an upcoming masquerade. On the ground before them, a young black servant in Oriental costume points knowingly at the horns of a statue of Actaeon, hinting at the cuckold's horns that the Earl will soon wear. The rest of the party, in dandy French costume, listen to a castrato performing in the corner.

Paulson 161 iv/iv, BM Satires 2731

Plate 5: The moral tragedy begins its final act in a shabby bagnio known as the Turk's Head, as the Earl has forced the door after following his wife and the lawyer Silvertongue. The lovers have been caught in flagrante delicto and the result is a duel in which the Earl is fatally wounded. He is depicted at centre in the middle of his fall, a bleeding wound in his chest, while the Countess falls to her knees in horror and apology beside him. Paulson describes the scene as a parody of Christ on the cross, with the weeping Madgalene at his feet. The owner of the bagnio bursts into the room, along with a watchman, attitudes of shock on their faces. Silvertongue, too late to avoid detection, his masquerade costume abandoned on the floor, leaps out a window to escape. A large and badly worn tapestry on the wall behind the scene shows the Judgement of Solomon, a groteque parody of which has just been played out by the Countess and her two courtiers.

Paulson 162 v/v, BM Satires 2744

Plate 6: The finale sees the death of the unfortunate Countess, in the austere rooms of her spendthrift father. A discarded laudanum bottle at her feet speaks to the method of her suicide, prompted by the execution of her lover, Silvertongue. Beside the bottle, a transcript of his final speech is topped by the iconic triple gallows of Tyburn. An aged serving-woman holds her child, a sickly bandy-legged girl with a black spot on her cheek, a grim suggestion of congenital syphilis. The death of the young Earl in the previous plate and the appearance of his daughter points to the extinguished line of the family-proud Squander. Despite the young womans death, none of the other figures show any remorse. Her father astutely removes the rings from his daughter's fingers before the onset of rigor mortis. A doctor makes a hasty exit, while the apothecary berates a dim-witted servant. The room is the polar opposite of the old Earl's grand parlour, sparsely furnished with bare floors, the walls decorated with low-class Dutch genre scenes. A starving dog picks at a hog's head on the table, while an open cuphoard reveals the merchants account ledgers.

Paulson 163 iii/iii, BM Satires 2758

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. After apprenticeship to a goldsmith, he began to produce his own engraved designs in about 1710. He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs, but based on earlier Italian prints, of which the first was The Harlot's Progress (1731), and perhaps the most famous The Rake's Progress. His engravings were so plagiarised that he lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1735, commonly referred to as 'Hogarth's Act,' as a protection for writers and artists. During the 1730s Hogarth also developed into an original painter of life-sized portraits, and created the first of several history paintings in the grand manner.

Condition: Strong clean impressions with full margins. Waterstaining to left margins of sheets, not affecting images or plates. Printers crease, strengthened on verso, to left margin of Plate 1, not affecting image. Two minor marginal tears to Plate 5, not affecting plate or image.
Framing unmounted
Price £1,400.00
Stock ID 46314