William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode (including Tête à Tête)

(music) (“In The Sky With
Diamonds” by Scalding Lucy) We’re in the National Gallery in London and we’re looking at a
set of six paintings by William Hogarth who’s
best known for making prints, not paintings. Beth: The 18th century
is an interesting moment especially in England
and France where we have the beginnings of the
industrial revolution. As a result, a widening middle
class that wants to buy art. Steven: You have the
land of aristocracy which in some ways beginning to lose power to a new merchant class
that is becoming powerful because it’s becoming wealthy. Beth: Whereas before, we had art that was serving the aristocracy,
princes, monarchs, the church, we now begin
to have art that is made for this growing
middle class audience. We have prints that are being sold to a wide public and art
becoming a commodity, something that large
numbers of people buy. Steven: Prints are a lot less
expensive than paintings. Hogarth’s intent here was
to use these paintings as a model for the prints
that he was going to produce and then he would sell his prints for about a schilling a piece. That was more than a working class person could afford, but it was
well within the means of this new middle class. Beth: Hogarth is becoming a kind of artist entrepreneur, something that might be very familiar to us in the
21st century when art is still so closely allied to commerce, to galleries, to moneymaking. Steven: This is so targeted
to that new middle class because it is a very
deeply moral set of images. It’s also a set of images
that is full of fun and makes fun of the aristocracy. The entire set is known as “Marriage A-la-Mode” and is prompted by this concern in the 18th century that marriages were sometimes arranged for economic benefit rather than for love. Beth: Marriage A-la-Mode
means “Modern Marriage” or “The Marriage of the Day.” The entire series, these six paintings, tell a story of an
aristocratic family named wonderfully, the
Squanderfields, suggesting that they squandered their
aristocratic fortune. Lord Squanderfield has to have his son marry the daughter of a
wealthy merchant so he can maintain his estate and all
his worldly possessions. The wealthy merchant’s
daughter gets in return the aristocratic title. Steven: What we have is an exchange. It is a kind of economic
deal that’s taking place, that’s being brokered here. Let’s look at the painting. On the right, we see Lord Squanderfield. He’s pointing to his family tree which begins with a Medieval knight suggesting what he’s bringing to the
table is this great lineage. Over on the far left,
you see his son in blue. He’s picking some snuff out of a box and he looks really like a dilettante. Beth: He’s actually
looking in the mirror, too, sort of gazing at his own reflection. Steven: We have no sympathy
for him whatsoever. Beth: The woman behind him,
who he’s going to marry, he has his back to, he’s not
paying any attention to her. This is an arranged marriage. The woman is being talked into it, someone we’re going to
see later in the story. Steven: His name is Silvertongue
and he’s a counsellor. Clearly Hogarth is making fun of him and talking about him as
kind of a smooth talker. Beth: What’s interesting is the way that Lord Squanderfield, with
his gout-ridden foot, he’s situated in between
the family tree and this dowry that he’s being paid. He’s saying, “I’m bringing
a lot to the table here. I’ve got this long, aristocratic lineage. This money that’s piled up,
this isn’t even enough for me.” Steven: That’s because, if
you look out the window, he’s building a new mansion and he needs to finance that. We see a lawyer at the
table and we also see the merchant himself that is
that young woman’s father, and they’re attending to
the business transaction. Beth: The architect stares out the window at the building that he’s
dreaming of constructing. Steven: Everybody is in this
for their own self-interest with the exception of the young couple; the young man, self-involved … the young woman looks inconsolable. Beth: These two individuals will add to the disaster that is their end here. Steven: Let’s move to the second canvas. This is “Tête-à-Tête” which means head-to-head, face-to-face. Beth: The husband has
come home from a night of gambling and drinking and … Steven: And womanizing. Beth: And womanizing. Steven: How can we tell? Beth: The dog’s sniffing
at what looks like a woman’s bonnet in his pocket, and he looks like he hasn’t slept at all. His wife, looks like she’s
had some fun of her own while her husband goes away. Her bodice is undone, she
looks flirtatious as though perhaps her lover has just left when her husband’s come home. She seems to be signaling with a mirror held above her head, to her lover perhaps, the chair is overturned, an
instrument is on the floor, a music book is open. This implication of lovemaking has taken place here and has just ended when the husband has come home. Steven: Music was a
traditional symbol of pleasure. Beth: And sensuality and lovemaking. In the room just past where they are, we see images of saints,
so we have Hogarth commenting on immorality of this couple. Steven: To make sure that
we don’t miss these signals, Hogarth has placed a third
figure in the foreground. He’s a kind of accountant
and you can see that he’s had it; he holds
receipts, he holds bills and he’s thrown his hands up. He can’t get this young couple to take their finances seriously. Beth: If you look at the mantlepiece, we’ve got all sorts of
knick-knacks lined up there that look like
they have been recently purchased and look inexpensive and gaudy compared to this
aristocratic environment with these oil paintings and gilded frames. Steven: That’s the
contrast that’s important I think, for Hogarth here. He’s making this sharp,
distinction between these tawdry things
that they’ve brought in, this young couple, and
the classicism that is a part of this aristocratic life. Beth: The aristocracy
has this reputation that they’ve inherited, these values that have accrued to them over centuries, but they’re values that don’t reflect
the reality of their lives. Steven: We can also see an addition, perhaps a painting that
the man has brought in, it’s partially obscured by a curtain and all that’s visible is a nude foot. Beth: On a bed. Steven: On a bed, so this would have been a very clear signal in the 18th
century to a lewd painting. In all of these paintings actually, the artwork really tells a meta story. They comment on a scene
that’s being enacted and we can see that right over the mantle. We have a Classical sculpture, but its nose is broken as if it had been knocked over at some party. Behind it, a painting of
Cupid among the ruins, that is; love itself is here ruined, love itself has become a disaster. Let’s look at the third painting. This canvas is called “The Inspection” and it takes place in a doctor’s office. Beth: The apothecary or
the doctor on the left seems to be cleaning his glasses which makes one worried about
the kind of inspection he’s going to perform. The woman behind him is
obviously his assistant, but they’re both clearly
suffering from Syphilis. Steven: This is an important point; Lord Squanderfield, the
younger Lord Squanderfield, actually has a sign of Syphilis which is that large, black form on his neck and we see that throughout these canvases. We know he is likely visiting prostitutes. He is living up a life in debauchery right from the beginning, clearly infecting his young wife. Beth: And here clearly
has infected a young woman who he’s brought with him
to the doctor’s office. who seems to be applying
some kind of ointment to a sore on her mouth. It’s just ghastly. Steven: Hogarth is doing everything he can to remove any kind of sympathy we could possibly have for this young man. Beth: He seems to be
saying to the apothecary, “Your medicine isn’t working.
Give me my money back.” Steven: The woman seems to
be quite angered by that whereas the apothecary himself seems to be not particularly concerned. Look at the kind of
caricature that Hogarth brings to the rendering of these figures. The apothecary himself, that’s
just a disreputable face. Beth: But again, the
surroundings tell us something about the figures. In the medical cabinet, you see a model of a human figure next to a skeletal model. Even on the left side we see a skull which is also a symbol of death,
but no one is taking seriously the fact that they’re
going to die one day. Steven: In fact, the young
Lord Squanderfield here seems to be in a very good mood. Let’s move onto the fourth canvas. Beth: This one is called
“The Toilette” so that means here that the woman is
at her dressing table. She’s having her hair done, she’s getting all dressed up, she’s having her makeup done and she’s surrounded by her friends. Notice that she’s not with her child. We do have an indication
that she’s had a child because we have a string
of coral beads that would have been used for
teething for children, but her child is never in sight. She’s not a good mother. She’s hanging out with
her friends instead. Steven: She’s in her
bedroom and her bedroom is this very public place
which is not so uncommon for the aristocracy, but we see on the left, for a second time now the
counselor Silvertongue and he looks right at home. This to the 18th century
would have suggested that he was actually illicitly
the young woman’s lover now. Remember, he was the one who was trying to talk her into the
marriage, to console her. He has taken full advantage. Beth: There’s music-making
and drinking and obviously figures who are
also suffering from Syphilis. The figure on the far right seems to be holding tickets and
pointing to an image of a masked ball. Steven: The paintings on
the wall that we’re seeing are all so important and make a kind of comment on the scene that we see paintings that are about the trespassing
of norms of behavior. Of course, that’s exactly
what this painting’s about. Beth: Two of the paintings
on the wall are about Zeus disguising himself in order to have a love affair and that’s
exactly what we’re going to see actually in the next scene. Steven: Here it’s night.
Here is the fifth painting. Here we’re no longer in
an aristocratic house, we’re in a place of disrepute. This is the kind of
room that you would hire when you didn’t want anybody to know what you were doing. What we see is the
young woman on her knees as her lover, that would be Silvertongue, flees out the window. He’s fleeing because he’s just impaled her husband with his sword. She’s beseeching him asking
for forgiveness because Silvertongue and the young woman were caught in the act. Beth: They have clearly
been at a masked ball. We see their discarded
clothing, we see a mask. Steven: So in the last
scene, Hogarth sums up by showing the death of the young woman, so now the husband and the wife are dead. The wife has died because
she’s poisoned herself when she’s read in the
newspaper that’s at her feet, that her lover, Silvertongue,
has been hanged. Beth: For the murder of
her husband, that’s right. We see the nurse bringing her her child to say goodbye to its mother. It’s a terrible scene. We also see a Syphilis
spot on the child’s cheek so we know that the child is sick and this couple is irredeemable. The entire practice of a
marriage that’s based on this kind of economic
exchange instead of love. It’s really indicted. Steven: Look … Her very father is taking a good ring from her finger
even as she lays dying. Beth: The dog on the
right is another symbol of greed as it steals meat from the table. Steven: And not just meat,
but a pig’s head actually. We can see that we’re back in her home. This is not the aristocratic
family of the Squanderfields, and you can see the
Thames River just outside, you can see the city crowding in and it’s a reminder of the way in
which London had changed so radically in the 18th century. Beth: So the great
Victorian novelist Thackeray wrote about the set of six paintings and summed up the moral. He wrote, “Don’t listen to evil
silver-tongued counsellors. Don’t marry a man for his
rank or a woman for her money. Don’t frequent foolish
auctions and masquerade balls unknown to your husband. Don’t have wicked companions abroad and neglect your wife, otherwise you will be run through the body and ruin will ensue and disgrace and Tyburn. Tyburn is the place where
criminals would be hanged. (music) (“In The Sky With
Diamonds” by Scalding Lucy)

Michael Martin

19 Responses

  1. At 8:50, the figure on the far left is identified as Counsellor Silvertounge. Silvertongue is actually the figure on the far right. The figure on the left is a castrato.

  2. The older woman in "The Inspection" may also be either a prostitute and/or the child's mother as well as the Doctor's assistant. I've always though it unlikely that she's supposed to be his assistant because of her extravagant dress.

    I think she's looking at him in disdain because he has given her (and maybe her daughter) syphilis.

    Also, the narwhal horn above the same older woman is a sexual symbol

    I would have said that Silvertongue was chatting her up in the first painting, not convincing/consoling her.

  3. I read somewhere that the flute player on the left in "the Toilette" is a reference to Frederick the Great, who was himself a keen flautist. The picture on the wall behind him of Zeus abducting Ganymede would have been a reference to Frederick's presumed homosexuality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment