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Published on October 17th, 2017 | by Pola Otterstein

William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

The 18th century British painter William Hogarth created an insightful series of paintings about the arranged marriages of his times, entitled Marriage à-la-mode. William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode – takes us into the unholy world of love affairs and marriage contracts amongst the aristocracy, with a plot portraying scenes of human indulgence and greed.

Settled marriages were a common thing in Britain’s past – just as they were in many other countries – and still are in some. Parents of the bride and the groom would decide whom their children should marry, with potential candidates ideally judged by their wealth and influence. During the 18th century, it became common for men amongst the upper classes to give “pin money” to their wives of lower financial standing, which was a kind of allowance to permit them to fulfil their personal fancies.

Indeed, a set of standards evolved around the concept of arranged marriages as related by H. J Habakkuk in his journal article Marriage Settlements in the Eighteenth Century: “In the early 18th century, the arrangements by which the English aristocracy and gentry commonly provided for their families conformed to a standard pattern, the strict settlement, in which the essential questions were settled at the marriage of the eldest son.”

The beginning of the story painted by William Hogarth takes place in the manor of the Earl of Squander, who is bankrupt and wants his son – the viscount – to marry the daughter of a wealthy, but mean city merchant. It is a tragic story spread out over six works, each one telling the subsequent part of the story over the previous painting.

In line with the practice of the period, the first painting is titled The Marriage Settlement, which shows the marriage contract being negotiated by the lawyer Silvertongue.

Marriage à-la-mode, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London, William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

Marriage à-la-mode, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

In line with the practice of the period, the first painting is titled The Marriage Settlement, which shows the marriage contract being negotiated by the lawyer Silvertongue.

The Tête à Tête, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London, William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

The Tête à Tête, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

The second painting, titled The Tête à Tête shows the married, but unhappy couple. The groom has a black spot on his neck, which is a sign of syphilis.

The Inspection, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London, William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

The Inspection, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

The Bagnio, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, LondonWilliam Hogarth - Marriage à-la-mode

The Lady’s Death, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

The third painting, The Inspection, portrays a scene of the viscount visiting the doctor with a very young prostitute. He is looking for a cure to his terrible illness.

The Toilette, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London,William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

The Toilette, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

The next painting, The Toilette, is about the death of the elder Squander, making his son Earl and his wife a countess. The bride is enjoying her morning toilette and being entertained by guests including the lawyer Silvertongue. The images in the background have significant meaning in this painting and are foreboding of the tragic events to follow.

The fifth painting, The Bagnio, is a scene picturing an affair: the countess and the lawyer have traveled to a bagnio – a cheap inn where no questions are asked. They are quickly discovered by the young earl, and as he fights with his rival he is mortally wounded, while the lawyer manages to escape through the window.

The Lady's Death, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London, William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode

The Lady’s Death, William Hogarth, 1743, National Gallery, London

In the last painting titled The Lady’s Death, we see the widowed countess dying as she chose to poison herself. Her cruel father, who has arranged her life of hell and made her entirely unhappy; slips a ring from his dying daughter’s finger, knowing that consequences for suicide are forfeit. The woman’s baby daughter is also unlucky enough to have contracted syphilis from her mother.
William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode and his way of vividly criticizing upper-class marriage for money rather than for love, was scorned by the aristocracy of his time, and this masterful series of paintings was met with little success during his lifetime despite their great historical value for posterity.

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About the Author

is a fifth-year student towards her Master of Journalism degree, yet art has always been one of her biggest interests. She especially admires Impressionism, Postimpressionism as well as Realism. As a result, she can never get enough of museums, and therefore loves to travel the world.



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