The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Height: 388.000 mm
Width: 462.000 mm
Bequeathed by Felix Slade (1868)
Prints and Drawings
William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate II, etching and engraving
London, 1 April 1745
Hogarth (1697-1764) does not give an address for the fictional Viscount Squanderfield and his wealthy bride, but there is no question that such a couple would have lived anywhere but in St James's or Mayfair.
Hogarth set out in Marriage A-la-Mode to satirise the lifestyle of the wealthy. In earlier conversation pieces, like the Cholmondeley Family (1732) or A Performance of 'The Indian Emperor' (1732-35), he had portrayed grand interiors as fitting settings for his patrons, but here he shows splendid decor as a contrast to the trivial pursuits of the young aristocrats: paintings of martyred saints overlook card tables; the dignified bust of a Roman matron is surrounded by amusing oriental figures bought by a flighty young bride with her stays undone and hair falling over her brow. In his Analysis of Beauty (1753) Hogarth noted that: 'A lock of hair falling thus cross the temples ... has an effect too alluring to be strictly decent, as is very well known to the loose and lowest class of women'. A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice to a Young Lady by the Revd Wettenhall Wilkes (1740) indicates how the young woman's negligent attitude would have been read by a contemporary audience: 'Never appear in company without your stays. Make it your general rule to lace in the morning, before you leave your chamber. The neglect of this is liable to the censure of indolence, supiness of thought, sluttishness - and very often worse. Leaning and lolling are often interpreted to various disadvantages ... The negligence of loose attire, may oft' invite to loose desire.'
Hogarth's criticism of conspicuous consumption was at odds with a society which revelled in increasing wealth. The series was not received as well as his more traditional moral tales, A Harlot's Progress (1732) and A Rake's Progress (1735), and the Marriage A-la-Mode paintings were not sold until 1751 and then for only 120 guineas (£126) rather than the five or six hundred pounds that Hogarth had hoped for.