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Marriage A-la-Mode: 2, The Tête à Tête

This is the second in Hogarth's series of six paintings titled Marriage A-la-Mode. It is a few months after the wedding of the Earl of Squander's son to the Alderman's daughter. The bride stretches sleepily, apparently after spending the whole night playing cards. The groom sprawls in his chair, exhausted from a night of debauchery on the town - the small dog tugs a girl's muslin cap out of his pocket, and a second muslin cap is wound round the hilt of his broken sword. The large black spot on his neck denotes syphilis.

Two fiddle cases lie on top of one another on an overturned chair, suggesting that the Viscountess has been spending the evening in activities more intimate than simply playing whist. The drawing room is a battleground for the silent dislike between the couple and the disharmony of their possessions. The steward of the household rolls his eyes up to heaven as he exits with a wad of unpaid bills.

For centuries, the English have been fascinated by the sexual exploits and squalid greed of the aristocracy, and these are the subjects of the six-part series Marriage A-la-Mode, which illustrates the disastrous consequences of marrying for money rather than love. The basic story is of a marriage arranged by two self-seeking fathers - a spendthrift nobleman who needs cash and a wealthy City of London merchant who wants to buy into the aristocracy. It was Hogarth's first moralising series satirising the upper classes.

The six pictures were painted in about 1743 to be engraved and then offered for sale after the engravings were finished. The engravings are uncoloured, reversed versions of the paintings. Published in 1745, the engravings were offered to subscribers at a guinea a set. They proved instantly popular and gave Hogarth's work a wide audience. The paintings were offered for sale by twelve noon on 6 June 1751, but only attracted two bidders, one of whom bought them all for £126.

Credit: Bought, 1824

c. 1743
Oil on canvas
69.9 x 90.8cm
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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